Net Neutrality and Free Speech

Network neutrality rules have been an ongoing controversy for years. Are the efforts of Internet providers like AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) to prioritize Web traffic reminiscent of the Chinese government's Internet censorship?

White House deputy chief technology officer Andrew McLaughlin, former chief of global policy at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , thinks so. He went on to say that free speech and net neutrality are "intrinsically linked," according to a recent Washington Post article.

Google, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , and many other big tech firms oppose giving Internet providers the power to diminish or block certain sites' traffic if user demand surges. They argue that a world where ISPs charge sites more to provide faster, better service would put smaller competitors in the slow lane, throttling innovation and competition. The Internet providers argue that their anti-regulatory stance would alleviate Web congestion, not crack down on free speech or free enterprise.

Exercise your freedom of speech on this issue in the comments boxes below.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2009, at 2:59 PM, obarurnq wrote:

    Federal net neutrality laws would prove disastrous. Supporters of them should answer this question: if the network becomes congested, and something has to be dropped, is all traffic really still equal?? For example, is an urgent email to your boss more or less important than kids watching music videos on Y0uTube?

    "Quality of Service" (QoS) is a well known technical tool for managing congestion based on protocol. Yet, net neutrality would, apparently, outlaw it.

    I also support usage-based pricing, which the net-neutrality guys are also against. Though, rarely seen in consumer plans, it is a staple of most business plans. If it is outlawed, many hosting companies would be immediately thrown into disarray.

    I certainly respect the other side of the argument and the potential for ISP's to abuse or censor. But, all of the proposals I've heard for N.N. laws so far are horrible and would do a lot of damage. In the meantime, the ISP's can really do very little in the way of real censorship -- their customers would flee! The poorly named "net neutrality" laws should be completely overhauled to allow congestion management or scrapped!!

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2009, at 3:38 AM, chaz572 wrote:

    obarurnq, you're dead wrong about one thing: ISPs' customers won't flee because they can't. Consumer Internet service is, at best, a duopoly in most areas, and a monopoly in many. You can thank the Martin FCC's sick joke of "competition between the technologies" for that. It's complete and utter bull. In a wealthy suburb of San Diego, I have one viable choice of ISP, and if they start censoring, I can put up with it or flee back to the stone ages of no access. Even for those who can, changing ISPs is a tremendous pain in the rear, incurring disproportionate costs. Even moreso now that all the major ISPs try to lock you into multi-year contracts with huge early termination fees like cellphone carriers. Except they're not giving their customers heavily subsidized equipment as part of the deal, so they have zero justification for long contracts with high termination fees. ZERO.

    Be fair and honest with us, obarurnq -- I have not heard of a single knowledgeable net neutrality proponent who isn't in favor of intelligent congestion management. And your e-mail takes up far fewer bits than your kids' videos, AND will deal much better with a slowdown, so that's an awful example. But let's assume you gave a brilliant example of a traffic prioritization situation. Who gets to assign the priority? And by what rules? Giving ISPs carte blanche to assign priority by their whim is an open invitation to engage in massively anticompetitive business practices. We've already seen one ISP who had their own in-house VoIP service get caught putting that at the head of the queue and Vonage at the tail. To anyone who says net neutrality is an answer in search of a problem, WAKE UP! The problem landed on our doorstep a year ago, and there's the proof.

    A open and democratic society REQUIRES that its communications infrastructure be free from the censorship (or prioritization, which in the extreme, becomes consorship) wishes of government or corporations. Read the following for a fantastic example of why... we've been down this road before and seen the disaster to which it leads.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/12/how-the-robb...

    However, as with all else, the devil is in the details. Poorly designed network neutrality legislation could very well end up being worse than doing nothing. That's why I exhort all knowledgeable parties to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the details, and speak out about them. Your Congresscritter is only a phone call away. Let's help them get the details right.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2009, at 3:39 AM, chaz572 wrote:

    obarurnq, you're dead wrong about one thing: ISPs' customers won't flee because they can't. Consumer Internet service is, at best, a duopoly in most areas, and a monopoly in many. You can thank the Martin FCC's sick joke of "competition between the technologies" for that. It's complete and utter bull. In a wealthy suburb of San Diego, I have one viable choice of ISP, and if they start censoring, I can put up with it or flee back to the stone ages of no access. Even for those who can, changing ISPs is a tremendous pain in the rear, incurring disproportionate costs. Even moreso now that all the major ISPs try to lock you into multi-year contracts with huge early termination fees like cellphone carriers. Except they're not giving their customers heavily subsidized equipment as part of the deal, so they have zero justification for long contracts with high termination fees. ZERO.

    Be fair and honest with us, obarurnq -- I have not heard of a single knowledgeable net neutrality proponent who isn't in favor of intelligent congestion management. And your e-mail takes up far fewer bits than your kids' videos, AND will deal much better with a slowdown, so that's an awful example. But let's assume you gave a brilliant example of a traffic prioritization situation. Who gets to assign the priority? And by what rules? Giving ISPs carte blanche to assign priority by their whim is an open invitation to engage in massively anticompetitive business practices. We've already seen one ISP who had their own in-house VoIP service get caught putting that at the head of the queue and Vonage at the tail. To anyone who says net neutrality is an answer in search of a problem, WAKE UP! The problem landed on our doorstep a year ago, and there's the proof.

    A open and democratic society REQUIRES that its communications infrastructure be free from the censorship (or prioritization, which in the extreme, becomes consorship) wishes of government or corporations. Read the following for a fantastic example of why... we've been down this road before and seen the disaster to which it leads.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/12/how-the-robb...

    However, as with all else, the devil is in the details. Poorly designed network neutrality legislation could very well end up being worse than doing nothing. That's why I exhort all knowledgeable parties to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the details, and speak out about them. Your Congresscritter is only a phone call away. Let's help them get the details right.

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