Archive for August 14, 2010
Net Neutrality and Rural Iowa
by Paul Deaton
“…the management of network discrimination (how packets of
data are prioritized) on routers owned by large corporations is a
matter in the public interest. Most of us have not questioned how this
has been done and hold a view that there is Net Neutrality. The truth is
that Net Neutrality, for those who have access, has never been neutral…”
The age of home computers dawned in 1995 at our house with the purchase of an Acer desktop computer and a subscription to dial up internet service. The computer cost more than a thousand dollars, and we felt we could afford it. In fact, we felt we needed the computer to help with our daughter's education in an increasingly computerized world. We fondly remember our small family gathering in the kitchen, listening to the modem squawk and watching the screen as we dialed into the internet for the first time.
The author had been using personal computers at work since 1989, but home use, with Netscape and Internet Explorer web browsers, was exploding. The revolution that was dial-up internet service, where we could access web pages at businesses, colleges, universities and government sites, was remarkable. One of the innovative features of Netscape was that it allowed the pages to load text and graphics to appear on the screen as they downloaded. We did not understand why a page loaded the way it did, and were more interested in content than the technology behind receiving it. We understood that something was behind slow-loading web pages, but not exactly what.
We live in rural Iowa, and high speed internet was slow coming to us. While we now have three choices of service providers, for what seemed like the longest time, dial-up was our slow-moving standard. This is true throughout much of rural Iowa. Many believe high speed internet should be a utility available to all, just like electricity.
Something we thought about then, and still do, is who maintains all of the servers and routers that make up the internet? In 1995, we thought that the internet was using excess capacity on existing computer networks, but the explosion of usage that started about the time our family began surfing the web changed all of that.
At the same time, the size of transmission files and “packets” continues to increase as high resolution photographs, movies and music files move around the internet. Likewise, in what CNBC pundit Jim Cramer calls the “mobile tsunami,” mobile devices take up increasing bandwidth in the airwaves. The explosion of internet usage created an explosion in data that is a driver in the discussion of “Net Neutrality.”
Princeton University's Edward W. Felton wrote an article titled, “Nuts and Bolts of Network Neutrality.” In it, he says, “Network neutrality is a vexing issue. Proponents of neutrality regulation argue that the free, innovative Internet of today is threatened and government action is needed to protect it. Opponents argue that regulation is not needed, or will be flawed in practice, or is a bad idea even in principle.” Felton frames up the concept of “network discrimination” from a technical point of view in the article. It is a must read for Blog for Iowa readers.
If network discrimination is part of the technical configuration of the internet, as networks and information flow grow, what is the role of the government?
In Iowa, many rural areas do not have access to high speed internet services, and government should play a role in bringing high speed internet access to parity with electricity.
At the same time, the management of network discrimination (how packets of data are prioritized) on routers owned by large corporations is a matter in the public interest. Most of us have not questioned how this has been done and hold a view that there is Net Neutrality. The truth is that Net Neutrality, for those who have access, has never been neutral, and increasingly has been controlled by the corporations that own the hardware. Without our knowledge, decisions have been made about which packets of information get dropped and which are forwarded in what order. With increasing demand for information, the current public discussion of Net Neutrality is welcome, timely and important.
Notable is the legislative initiative undertaken by Google and Verizon for an open internet. This too is a must read for Blog for Iowa readers. Presumptive in this initiative is that there is a role for our federal government in maintaining Net Neutrality. The question is whether net neutrality will be a matter of how the Federal Communication Commission will regulate the internet or whether it will be a methodology for corporations to extract profit from the internet in the same way they extract profit from spectra of public airwaves.
There is a “Don't do Evil” campaign against Google's participation in the legislative initiative. Google defends their position against what they believe are myths being propagated regarding its views on Net Neutrality. However; it is too late to be worrying about a corporate takeover of the internet. Corporations already are a primary source of internet content and provide the technical means for its delivery.
The author agrees with this statement from Google, “It’s up to Congress, the FCC, other policymakers – and the American public – to take it from here. Whether you favor our (Google's) proposal or not, we urge you to take your views directly to your Senators and Representatives in Washington.” The trouble is, that when you live in rural Iowa and don't have high speed internet service, the issue of Net Neutrality is a low priority.
When corporations have the same legal rights as citizens, and large coffers of cash with which to lobby Congress, our voice may fall victim to another form of network discrimination.
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul