Net Neutrality

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For everyone? [io_burn / Flickr]

Sometimes what the geeks care about is important. Right now the geeks are talking about “net neutrality,” the idea that every packet of information — a piece of an email, a piece of an mp3 of a radio broadcast — carries equal importance. That is, a message from me moves no faster or slower over the Internet than a message from the Queen. Or from CNN. Net neutrality isn’t protected by any law, it isn’t vouchsafed by any regulatory agency, it’s just one of the standards that govern the Internet.

The standard may not hold. Cable and phone companies, the ones who give you broadband access to the Internet, have been hinting that they may start offering faster passage for those who are willing to pay for it, that is, CNN’s message will get to you faster than mine does. It sounds fair. It’s how the free market works, right? But it could squelch innovation in the places it tends to happen, in smaller companies that tend not to be able to pay a lot of money up front. Companies like Skype — which is bringing down the cost of telephone calls — or, once upon a time, two Stanford grad students who started a project called “Google.”

So do we need to start regulating the Internet to protect it? Is net neutrality what make the Internet what it is, or was it just the free market, and innovation? Are we worried about the effects of the end of net neutrality on democracy? Do I want Verizon deciding who can and can’t use the Internet to get to me?

Thanks to The Chukmeister for suggesting this show.

Siva Vaidhyanathan

Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication, NYU


Vaidhyanathan pronounces his own name (MP3)

Dave McClure

President and CEO, U.S. Internet Industry Association

Gary Bachula

Vice President for External Relations, Internet2

Former Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology, US Department of Commerce

Scott Cleland


Founder & President, Precursor, LLC

Extra-Credit Reading

Tim Berners-Lee, Neutrality of the Net Decentralized Information Group, May 2, 2006

David Isenberg, Talk on Net Neutrality, The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, May 3, 2006

Mike McCurry, Hostile Commentary and Net Neutrality, The Huffington Post, May 1, 2006

Andrew Raff, Why Oppose Net Neutrality? IPTAblog, April 27, 2006

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