When I started to pen this column on network neutrality—the notion that all content on the Internet should continue to be treated equally—I thought I was on the side of grassroots coalitions like Save the Internet and Hands off the Internet. These groups believe that Internet traffic should not be parsed based on the traffic’s source, content or destination, and they predict that the Internet will become a private toll road unless Congress writes a strong definition of network neutrality into the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE), otherwise known as HR 5252, the proposed rewrite of the Telecom Act of 1996.
What’s the position of the telecom providers? They’ve invested billions to upgrade network infrastructure in anticipation of more bandwidth-intensive apps. In order to continue investing in the health of the Internet, and in order to have it run smoothly, they need to be able to discriminate between high-demand and low-demand traffic.
The word that sticks in the craw is “discriminate,” and it has sent millions of Internet users into a frenzy of worry that a looser definition of network neutrality will turn large telecom providers into not only toll collectors but content police.
Think of your own use of the Internet. Are your digital photos and home videos consuming more bandwidth? Of course they are. What about your corporate website? Are you using streaming video yet? And what happens if the “Year of Videoconferencing” actually becomes reality? Bandwidth demand skyrockets.
I’ve reconsidered. I’m now neutral on the concept of network neutrality. The real issue—what’s really important to address—is how woefully behind the rest of the world the United States is in pervasive, high-speed broadband deployment.
What our nation needs more than HR 5252 is a comprehensive, long-term national telecommunications infrastructure policy that lays out how our country will build that national high-speed broadband network. If we don’t, our nation will not be able to COPE with the rest of world.