It's a noble concept. We should aspire to have equal access and fair treatment, online and off. The Internet should remain an open, unfettered sandbox for innovation.
These principles should guide regulators and lawmakers as they consider rules balancing public interest with the reality that the Internet is largely operated by private companies for profit.
By pursuing these principles, we may also prevent
But it's naive to think net neutrality means everyone pays the same price to use the Internet.
That's never been the case. Since the rise of the commercial Internet, it's been a place where you pay more to get faster and better service, whether you are a consumer or a company on the other end of the pipe.
Yet listening to the rhetoric over the past week -- since the
At least until the
Then you've got
In reality, there's already a class system in place on the Internet, and you're discriminated against if you don't pay up. Just look at your broadband bill -- the more you pay, the faster your service.
Look into the guts of the Internet, and you'll see a hodgepodge of network companies that have always charged corporate customers different rates depending on the quality and speed of their connections.
There's disparity among companies serving up content as well. Those who pay for more and better equipment and connections have websites that load faster and perform better.
Wealthy companies can afford to stash their content around the world, so it loads faster.
Even the individual packets of information flowing across the Internet may be treated differently, depending on what sort of files they contain.
Prioritizing network traffic is a big business.
Where it gets sticky is in the last mile, where Internet service providers make the final delivery to your home.
This is where we're debating whether it's OK for ISPs to create high-speed toll lanes for companies like
It makes sense for ISPs that are spending to keep up with the tsunami of traffic from
Those services now account for 59 percent of North American Web traffic during peak hours, according to
Streaming video traffic is likely to get much heavier in the next few years, as we stream ever more content and move toward ultra-high-definition, 4K video.
ISPs will figure out a way to cover the cost of handling this traffic. If they can't collect tolls on big deliveries, they'll probably move from tiered pricing to metered charges, so your monthly broadband bill will vary depending on how much you consume.
Fast lanes would be preferable as long as the overall roadway kept expanding, so everyone kept moving at the same pace.
One risk, though, is that companies on the fast lane will hog the finite amount of capacity, and everyone else will suffer.
For a real-world example, drive around
City leaders thought it was a good idea to create fast lanes for buses. But instead of building more lanes, they took away general-purpose lanes that everyone used and gave them to buses.
Buses do carry a bigger load and giving them fast lanes helps them move faster during rush hour. But not everyone uses buses, and most of the day the special lanes are hardly used and not necessary.
In the end, traffic worsened, making
A nicer example is the way universities and the federal government, starting in the late 1990s, built a fast lane for research purposes.
Called Internet2, this continues to operate in parallel to the regular Internet with all sorts of public benefit.
Maybe ISPs should work with
The problem is nobody trusts
Yet consumers are paying for uniform delivery of whatever they want to download. Ensuring these speeds is part of the
Fast lanes weren't allowed under net-neutrality rules the
Last week, the
Now we have four months to comment on the proposal. If
Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2014 The Seattle Times
Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services