The European Union has started its official process to consider all sides of the Net Neutrality question. As we might expect, myriad lobbyists have descended on European Commission headquarters in Brussels to make their respective points.

Net Neutrality has more to do with network traffic management than content censoring, but the two concepts do overlap.

Net Neutrality is, essentially, the position that Internet providers and network operators should not engage in traffic management — particularly the practices known as ‘traffic shaping’ and ‘throttling’ — limiting users’ abilities to literally download unlimited amounts of data via their ‘unlimited’ access accounts.

Traffic management is already in use by many major ISPs, because problems caused by a few intensive users abusing the collective bandwith are already acute. AOL last fall revealed that just five per cent of its total users routinely tie up almost 50 per cent of its overall network capacity. What are they doing? Mostly, sharing tons of movies and other videos, huge files which require huge amounts of network capacity to transfer.

Canada’s Canadian Radio, Television and Telecomunications Commission (CRTC) will officially address Net Neutrality issues in hearings this July. Pre-hearing submissions closed late last month. The U.S. will also hold Net Neutrality hearings later this year. Observers say other governments may well take their lead from the outcome of the European Commission process, which will govern policies and regulations in all the EU member nations and constitutes the major regulatory force in Eurpe.

One Response to EU opens Net Neutrality debate

  1. Evolving Squid
    Mar 09, 2009

    The net will not be “neutral” in the sense that this article considers as long as it is a commercial enterprise. It simply can’t be – where commercial enterprise is involved, commercial interest will shape the service. That’s the way business works.

    The only way to make the net “neutral” would be to fully return control to the government. Not to regulate it – that will only reduce service levels across the board and drive up prices – but to have governments take over and fully fund the infrastructure. At that point, the Internet’s neutrality is effectively in the hands of the people.

    Of course, it still wouldn’t be neutral. In the control of governments one could expect censorship in the form of things like forced Canadian content, or blocking of sites that the Australian government deems objectionable. Such measures would be easily implemented on a government controlled internet.

    The internet is a commercial enterprise. It is wholly controlled by the profit it can generate. People who abuse the net by sucking up all the bandwidth with their (usually illegal) file sharing affect the bottom line – they increase infrastructure costs and return very little revenue – and the corporations have a duty to their shareholders and to their less abusive customers to manage the resource in a way that makes it reasonably fair to everyone and turns a profit. That means traffic shaping.

    Let’s face the facts here… nobody has to download movies – DVDs are plentiful in stores and quite inexpensive. They don’t take that option because they’d rather steal the movie for free over the internet. At a fundamental level, it makes sense for corporations to put the kybosh on that, since realistically, the government can’t stop it.

    Net neutrality is, and always has been, a myth. So too is the “unlimited” internet account. If we need any regulation of the net it would be to require that service providers spell out exactly what any account’s limitations really are.

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