An Issue of Vital Importance: Net Neutrality

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

2 October 2006

The Internet is a tool that offers open access to all of it users. Yet this may change if the telecommunications companies have their way.

The debate over so-called ‘net neutrality’ is one of fiercest discussions currently taking place in the United States today. In fact, its outcome could send shockwaves across the world. At stake is nothing less than the future of the Internet and the features that made it what it is today.

Net neutrality has existed since the birth of the Internet. Simply put, this means it is a universal network through which information flows in packets. These packets, regardless of the information they carry, can take different routes and then join up again at the point of destination. At network level, all the packets are exactly the same, no matter what their origin. The network is a completely neutral infrastructure with no intermediaries whatsoever between the sender and the receiver. Thanks to this low level of control and regulation, the Net has been able to spark the greatest of all revolutions: It has become the most efficient vehicle known to mankind for the transmission of information, enabling even small start-up companies to compete directly with the world´s largest enterprises. Such is the case, for example, of voice IP (VoIP) or Voice over Internet protocol.

Those who support the eradication of net neutrality are mainly telecommunications companies and their lobbies who conceal their identity behind alleged consumer associations. In fact, the aim of this oligopoly, which is devoted to exploiting the infrastructures built largely with governmental subsidies, is to gain effective control over what circulates-- and how it circulates-- through the network. This would give them the right to provide better conditions for those willing to pay more. Behind the excuse of building "a more efficient Internet", their offer really seeks to create a layered structure and provide access to the different layers through payment.

Frustrated by a structure that prevents them from controlling the network, these companies have decided to change the system. Rather than remain neutral carriers, they are seeking the power to control man´s most important possession today: The capacity to transmit and access information. To legitimise their message, they shroud it in a veil of false liberalism, saying hypocritically that net neutrality actually represents a greater degree of governmental regulation, while posing an obstacle for private initiative.

In fact, net neutrality simply means leaving things as they are. Ultimately, this enables the Internet to remain free of government control and regulations. It also means continuing the level of diffusion and growth that we enjoy today, instead of allowing the flow of information to be controlled by the owners of the network infrastructure.

No doubt this is a debate of utmost importance; it defines how we shall access information and communicate with each other over the Internet in the future. Clearly, it is an issue of vital importance to all of us.

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