What is Internet neutrality and why should you care? Vinton Cerf, called the father of the Internet by some (and you thought it was Al Gore), says Internet neutrality prevents broadband providers from directing users to services they provide and away from other content/service providers. In other words, Mr. Cerf is concerned that the companies who paid to build the Internet may use it to their advantage.
Think AT&T, the Baby Bells, Verizon, Cingular, Cox, Comcast, Adelphia and a host of other large companies who have invested heavily in fiber optic cable to bring blazing speeds to your desktop computer. The service providers of the world fear we may be blocked or perhaps misdirected away from their content and toward the content offered by the companies who built the hardware for the Internet.
Is Internet neutrality a solution without a problem? The hardware companies think so. They haven't invoked the hoopla around the Y2K debacle, but that's about the position that they're taking. "We won't direct traffic away from the content/service providers"
On the other hand, Internet neutrality groups cite as a battle cry the words spoken last November by AT&T Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr., who said content providers were "nuts" if they thought they could use "my pipes" without paying extra, referring to AT&T's broadband and telephone DSL services.
The United States Supreme Court opened the battlefield for Congress to step in last year in its Brand X decision, which affirmed the FCC's decision classifying cable broadband Internet access an information service and not telephone service. The consequence of the decision was not lost on Congress: According to the Supreme Court, cable is not a common-carrier and therefore does not require equal access to its "pipes."
So, Congress has stepped in with the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 to solve what some Senators see as the problem. The act seeks to allow phone companies to negotiate national cable franchise agreements instead of the way cable companies must do now: negotiating city-by-city franchise rights. I'm guessing that the Senators think that freedom somehow balances the restrictions on phone companies to allow equal access to their lines. Wags predict it the bill may get sidelined until next year.
The solution has brought together groups normally at odds with one another: the conservative Christian Coalition and liberal MoveOn.org. Both have demanded that Congress make this law Internet neutral and ensure that content/service providers have equal access to these "pipes" - whether they belong to the phone company or to the cable company.
AT&T says advocates fears are overblown.
Is the hullabaloo real? Check out your own Internet connection and see if you can freely get around the Internet.