Network Neutrality: Some Background and Perspectives (Updated August 26, 2010)

David Badertscher

In an August 6, 2010 posting on the AALL Washington Blawg, “As Talks Break Down, What is Next for Neutrality”, Emily Feldman discussed the implication of talks on network neutrality between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and stakeholders of network neutrality falling apart, or at least being sidetracked, as part of the fallout from the private proposal presented by Google and Verizon regarding the management and possibly financing of internet traffic. As Ms. Feldman correctly noted, network neutrality is a priority for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) because law librarians “are providers, creators and users of digital information, and it is up to law libraries to ensure that everyone has equal access to the information they need”.Although librarians are special stakeholders in issues relating to the nature and the existence of network neutrality due to the nature of their mission, everyone in our society should have special concerns about the outcome of these discussions and debates because of the increasing perception of web based information as increasing in value as a service, and even perhaps as a commodity (or something like a commodity).

The above considerations have inspired me to create a new posting to update information previously posted on this blog about network neutrality and also to incorporate new discussion about what network neutrality is, providing some added information to help bring the recent FCC, Google, Verizon interactions into perspective, and conclude by providing some information regarding positions taken on network neutrality by two organizations with which I am most familiar, the American Association of Law Libraries and the Internet Society.

What is Network Neutrality?

Network neutrality (also net neutrality, internet neutrality) is essentially a principle or concept which holds that companies providing Internet services should treat all sources of data equally and that there should be no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment attached, and also no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed. See also New York Times: Times Topics discussion on Network Neutrality updated to August 12, 2010.

Google Verizon and the FCC

Critics of network neutrality have argued that some kinds of data discrimination on the Internet for some purposes, such as to guarantee quality of service, are actually highly desirable. Such divisions of opinion have resulted in large internet companies talking about creating a two-tiered Internet with a “fast lane and a slow lane”. An alternative approach has recently been presented in a joint proposal by Google and Verizon. In their proposal, Google and Verizon advocate enforcing network neutrality principles on wired communications but not on the wireless Internet. The Google/Verizon proposal also includes something they refer to as “additional differentiated online sources”.What this means appears to be an open question as noted in the following e-mail received from the New York Chapter of the Internet Society:

The break up of the FCC’s ‘secret talks’ and the publishing of the Google/Verizon joint legislative proposal has certainly stirred up a net neutrality hornets nest. Just what ‘differentiated services’ do they have in mind? Is wireless really out the window?

The New York Chapter of the Internet Society have prepared a discussion regarding the Google/Verizon involment including a chronology with links to related “Google/Verizon Statement on Open Internet Net Neutraltiy” on their website. I was prepared to do some reasonably extensive research on this topic myself but thanks to the people at ISOC-NY it was unnecessary for me to do so
Positions Taken on Network Neutrality by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the Internet Society (ISOC).

American Association of Law Libraries (AALL):

The American Association of Law Libraries is a member of the Save the Internet Coalition and the Open Internet Coalition, both of which bring together individuals, non-profit organizations, businesses and bloggers who strongly support network neutrality . AALL also maintains a Net Neutrality Issue Brief which is currently updated to June 2010.

Internet Society (ISOC)

While the Internet Society does appear to have an Official Statement (included among the Google/Verizon documents mentioned earlier) which addresses the Google/Verizon Proposal I have been unable to determine if they have a document approved by their Board of Directors which constitues an official position of ISOC regarding network neutrality. That does not mean however that ISOC has not taken positions on this subject.. As an example see the ISOC paper “Open Inter-networking” (February 21, 2010) which includes a useful discussion of open network considerations including network neutrality which it considers to be” a broad and ill-defined term that encompasses a range of policy objectives including free expression, user choice, and discrimination as well as business issues including network traffic management, pricing and overall business models.” This paper also asserts that “[T]he Internet Society believes that the proper focus in this discussion [open inter-networking] is on the desired outcome: continued open inter-networking. Current debate centres on whether or how IP packets can be treated impartially”

Update as of August 26, 2010.

Since the above information was posted two additional documents useful to this discussion have come to our attention:

Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate
Report No. R40616 Subjects: Telecommunications CRS Reports, 111th Congress (8/11/2010; Posted: 8/26/2010)

Campbell, Robert. “Lawmakers Argue Against Adoption of Verizon-Google Net Neutrality Plan,” Originally posted on Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & LLP website. August 20, 2010. Also on August 26, 2010.

In an August 20, 2010 paper posted on Lexology, ” Lawmakers Argue Against Adoption of Verizon-Google Net Neutrality Plan,” Patrick Campbell of Paul Weiss Rifking Wharton & Garrison in New York reports that four Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have written to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski voiceing their concerns with the net neutrality policy framework proposed by Verizon Communications and Google, Inc. Mr. Campbell writes: “The lawmakers claim that the agreement ‘reinforces the need for resolution of the current open proceedings at the Commission to ensure the maintenance of an open Internet.’ In the week since its introduction, the regulatory roadmap offered by Google and Verizon has added considerable ammunition to the debate over net neutrality that continues to intensify in the wake of the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in the Comcast- BitTorrent case. Specifically, the companies’ plan would prohibit wireline broadband operators from selectively blocking web transmissions while exempting wireless mobile broadband providers from net neutrality regulation…”

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