Prioritizing traffic on the Web?

The hornet's nest representing the issue of Net Neutrality was stirred when the U.S. Department of Justice came out with a statement supporting the preferential charging of content on the Web. While it's highly debatable as to whether the concept of total neutrality really exists, it's the arguments put forward by the DOJ that truly seem to be lacking in firm reality.

Here is a quote from the PC Mag:

The DOJ wants a hands-off approach to the Internet unless it is in jeopardy of crumbling. Legislation to ensure net neutrality "can inefficiently skew investment, delay innovation and diminish consumer welfare," according to the filing.

The Internet is one domain that has seen prolific growth in the past years. The Web is a melting pot of innovation. All it takes is a little server to host a Web site with some nifty features thrown into the Web pages, and the opportunities to innovate are limitless. Let's dissect the arguments of Net Neutrality, one piece at at time:

Bandwidth as a scarce resource

One argument is that bandwidth is a "scarce resource" (EWeek article). Bandwidth over the Net is measured purely in terms of data capacity per second. With leaps and bounds in transmission technology and millions of miles of optical fibre laying at the bottom of the ocean, how can bandwidth ever be a scarce resource? This is the age of the attention economy where organizations are virtually offering Internet for free over Wi-Fi and monetizing on ads. Bandwidth is anything but scarce.
Hindering innovation

Another argument is that Net Neutrality will hinder the upgrading of networks (BBC article). If I have a problem accessing content on my network, and if you have better accessibility, obviously I'll switch providers. This very fact flies in the face of the "hindering" argument. A neutral Net implies that service providing companies treat customers equally, and they have to upgrade for everyone or they'll lose their customers. Many enterprises are busy buying dark fiber, and it makes sense for some enterprises to have a policy worked out to ensure the maximum reach of the Web. The customers do not have to be worried about these issues.

The decision made by the DOJ seems to be in the light of limitations that cannot realistically be applied to the Net. Also, the preferential charging of content would fragment the Net to favor businesses and isolate the masses. The Internet is today the most powerful medium for unhindered expression. And non-preferential systems are the best way to keep it that way.

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