It's Best to Go with the Flow: Pressure to Regulate Traffic Threatens the Neutrality That the Net Was Built on, Says Becky Hogge

By Hogge, Becky | New Statesman (1996), April 28, 2008 | Go to article overview
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It's Best to Go with the Flow: Pressure to Regulate Traffic Threatens the Neutrality That the Net Was Built on, Says Becky Hogge


Hogge, Becky, New Statesman (1996)


Bollocks. That was the word the chief exec of Virgin Media chose to describe a debate that has captured the minds of US internet users for the past several years. He was referring to network neutrality: the concept that internet service providers (ISPs) should not be able to discriminate against the data that flows across their networks.

ISPs are under a great deal of pressure. The government wants them to be able to deliver faster broadband connections to UK customers, and this will take major investment from the big players such as BT. Increasing political pressure means they are also suggesting that ISPs should be trying to regulate the content that travels across these networks--stopping their customers from illicitly sharing files, or blocking illegal content such as images of child sex abuse. At the same time ISPs complain that new services, such as the BBC's on-demand iPlayer service, are slowing down the network, while customers grumble that their internet speeds are nothing like those advertised when they signed up.

Over the coming months, these complaints are likely to come to a head. The founding father of the worldwide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called network neutrality "essential"--for the free market, for democracy and for science. His analysis, that network neutrality is what has driven the internet's rapid pace of innovation, is shared by many others.

From email and eBay to Skype, Facebook and more, applications have mushroomed because all it took to innovate was a computer and a connection.

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