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Net Neutrality - what it is and why it matters.

Jim Infantino

There has been a great deal of obfuscation regarding Net Neutrality. Most of what we hear about it is provided in misleading ads by broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon who have a vested interest in how it turns out. What it comes down to is this: Net Neutrality = equality for all bytes on the web. Geeks can skip the following paragraph: The information that hits your browser is measured in bytes. Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, Exo, etc. Bytes are pretty much all the same, whether they are video, audio, images, email, or webpages. Bytes are bundled into packets. A typical packet consists of 1000 to 1500 bytes regardless of the kind of data it contains. The typical broadband Internet Service Provider (ISP) delivers access to the internet to your home or office or phone with a specific upload and download speed. This is often referred to as the width of the pipe - like a water pipe to your home. Companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T etc., would like to discriminate between these bytes and prioritize the bytes you receive based on where they are coming from and what type of information you are trying to access.

There are two big problems with this kind of grab for control of the web.

1. Packet Discrimination: Companies who are against Net Neutrality (treating all bytes on the web equally) argue that the video packet or Voice Over IP packet can clogg the news packet or email packet, but bytes are bytes are bytes are bytes, so the reason to give one packet of bytes the green light to your browser, and another the yellow, makes no sense. Why not just widen the pipe?

2. Gatekeeper Fees: To allow the ISPs to become the gatekeepers of our common information, would essentially open up the possibility for them to charge 3 times for the same information. The first charge is to us, for the pipe to our homes, the second to the servers - for their bandwidth output, and a new charge to the servers to be one of their priority content providers. This last charge could give much more weight to sites that pay your ISP or advertise for your ISP, and much less weight to content that competes with your ISP (like VoIP sites, or networks that broadcast their cable shows online). Given the almost complete lack of choice most people have with regard to their ISPs, this would be a significant stifling of our access to unedited opinion, and reporting, and free expression, which has made the web so valuable and fun.

Result: The Stalinization of the Web (or something ominous like that) So, if you like Keith Urban, and Comcast has a deal with Keith Urban's servers, and Keith's site is on Comcast's priority content list, you're golden. His music videos load fast. But what if you are a Patty Griffin fan, and she's not on Comcast's priority content list? Slow music. Slow video. Slow email to her telling her you love her music. Problemo. This is basically how we see it here at SLABmedia. We encourage you to educate yourselves further on this point. The issue of Net Neutrality will most probably come to the US congress this year. Those of you who live in the US may want to become involved.