An Introduction to logical access controlNetwork neutrality, most commonly called net neutrality, is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all Internet communications equally, and not discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, source address, destination address, or method of communication.
With net neutrality, ISPs may not intentionally block, slow down, or charge money for specific online content. Without net neutrality, ISPs may prioritize certain types of traffic, meter others, or potentially block traffic from specific services, while charging consumers for various tiers of service.
The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems. Net neutrality regulations may be referred to as "common carrier" regulations. Net neutrality does not block all abilities that Internet service providers have to impact their customers' services. Opt-in/opt-out services exist on the end user side, and filtering can be done on a local basis, as in the filtration of sensitive material for minors.
Research suggests that a combination of policy instruments will help realize the range of valued political and economic objectives central to the network neutrality debate. Combined with strong public opinion, this has led some governments to regulate broadband Internet services as a public utility, similar to the way electricity, gas, and the water supply are regulated, along with limiting providers and regulating the options those providers can offer.
Proponents of net neutrality, which include computer science experts, consumer advocates, human rights organizations, and Internet content providers claim that net neutrality helps to provide freedom of information exchange, promotes competition and innovation for Internet services, and upholds standardization of Internet data transmission which was essential for its growth. Opponents of net neutrality, which include ISPs, and telecom equipment manufacturers, assert that net neutrality requirements would reduce their incentive to build out the Internet, reduces competition in the marketplace, and may raise their operating costs which they would have to pass along to their users.
Net neutrality is administered on a national or regional basis, though much of the world's focus has been on the conflict over net neutrality in the United States. Net neutrality in the US has been a topic since the early 1990s, as they were one of the world leaders in online service providing. In 2019, the Save the Internet Act to "guarantee broadband internet users equal access to online content" was passed by the United States House of Representatives but not by the US Senate. However, they face the same problems as the rest of the world. Finding an appropriate solution to creating more regulation for Internet Service Providers has been a major work in progress.
Legal aspects of logical access controlLegal enforcement of net neutrality principles takes a variety of forms, from provisions that outlaw anti-competitive blocking and "throttling" of Internet services, all the way to legal enforcement that prevents companies from subsidizing Internet use on particular sites. Contrary to popular rhetoric and statements by various individuals involved in the ongoing academic debate, research suggests that a single policy instrument (such as a no-blocking policy or a quality of service tiering policy) cannot achieve the range of valued political and economic objectives central to the debate. As Bauer and Obar suggest, "safeguarding multiple goals requires a combination of instruments that will likely involve government and nongovernment measures. Furthermore, promoting goals such as the freedom of speech, political participation, investment, and innovation calls for complementary policies."
Issues of logical access controlDiscrimination by protocolDiscrimination by protocol is the favouring or blocking information based on aspects of the communications protocol that the computers are using to communicate. In the US, a complaint was filed with the Federal Communications Commission against the cable provider Comcast alleging they had illegally inhibited users of its high-speed Internet service from using the popular file-sharing software BitTorrent. Comcast admitted no wrongdoing in its proposed settlement of up to US$16 dollars per share in December 2009. However, a U.S. appeals court ruled in April 2010 that the FCC exceeded its authority when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for deliberately preventing some subscribers from using peer-to-peer file-sharing services to download large files. However, the FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard responded, "the court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet, nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end". Despite the ruling in favour of Comcast, a study by Measurement Lab in October 2011 verified that Comcast had virtually stopped its BitTorrent throttling practices.
Discrimination by IP addressDuring the 1990s, creating a non-neutral Internet was technically infeasible. Originally developed to filter harmful malware, the Internet security company NetScreen Technologies released network firewalls in 2003 with so-called deep packet inspection capabilities. Deep packet inspection helped make real-time discrimination between different kinds of data possible, and is often used for Internet censorship. In a practice called zero-rating, companies will not invoice data use related to certain IP addresses, favoring use of those services. Examples include Facebook Zero, Wikipedia Zero, and Google Free Zone. These zero-rating practices are especially common in the developing world.
Sometimes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will charge some companies, but not others, for the traffic they cause on the ISP's network. French telecom operator Orange, complaining that traffic from YouTube and other Google sites consist of roughly 50% of total traffic on the Orange network, made a deal with Google, in which they charge Google for the traffic incurred on the Orange network. Some also thought that Orange's rival ISP Free throttled YouTube traffic. However, an investigation done by the French telecommunications regulatory body revealed that the network was simply congested during peak hours.
Aside from the zero-rating method, ISPs will also use certain strategies to reduce costs of pricing plans such as the use of sponsored data. In a scenario where a sponsored data plan is used, a third-party will step in and pay for all the content that it (or the carrier or consumer) does not want around. This is generally used as a way for ISP's to remove out-of-pocket costs from subscribers.
One of the criticisms regarding discrimination is that the system set up by ISPs for this purpose is capable of not only discriminating but also scrutinizing full-packet content of communications. For instance, the deep packet inspection technology installs intelligence within the lower layers in the work to discover and identify the source, type, and destination of packets, revealing information about packets traveling in the physical infrastructure so it can dictate the quality of transport such packet will receive. This is seen as an architecture of surveillance, one that can be shared with intelligence agencies, copyrighted content owners, and civil litigants, exposing the users' secrets in the process.
Favoring private networksProponents of net neutrality argue that without new regulations, Internet service providers would be able to profit from and favor their own private protocols over others. ISPs are able to encourage the use of specific services by using private networks to discriminate what data is counted against bandwidth caps. For example, Comcast struck a deal with Microsoft that allowed users to stream television through the Xfinity app on their Xbox 360s without it affecting their bandwidth limit. However, utilizing other television streaming apps, such as Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu, counted towards the limit. Comcast denied that this infringed on net neutrality principles since "it runs its Xfinity for Xbox service on its own, private Internet protocol network". In 2009, when AT&T was bundling iPhone 3G with its 3G network service, the company placed restrictions on which iPhone applications could run on its network. According to proponents of net neutrality, this capitalization on which content producers ISPs can favor would ultimately lead to fragmentation, where some ISPs would have certain content that is not necessarily present in the networks offered by other ISPs. The danger behind fragmentation, as viewed by proponents of net neutrality, is the concept that there could be "multiple 'Internets,'" where some ISPs offer exclusive internet applications or services or make it more difficult to gain access internet content that may be more easily viewable through other internet service providers. An example of a fragmented service would be television, where some cable providers offer exclusive media from certain content providers. However, in theory, allowing ISPs to favor certain content and private networks would overall improve internet services since they would be able to recognize packets of information that are more time-sensitive and prioritize that over packets that are not as sensitive to latency. The issue, as explained by Robin S. Lee and Tim Wu, is that there are literally too many ISPs and internet content providers around the world to reach an agreement on how to standardize that prioritization. A proposed solution would be to allow all online content to be accessed and transferred freely, while simultaneously offering a "fast lane" for a preferred service that does not discriminate on the content provider.
Peering discriminationThere is disagreement about whether peering is a net neutrality issue. In the first quarter of 2014, streaming website Netflix reached an arrangement with ISP Comcast to improve the quality of its service to Netflix clients. This arrangement was made in response to increasingly slow connection speeds through Comcast over the course of 2013, where average speeds dropped by over 25% of their values a year before to an all-time low. After the deal was struck in January 2014, the Netflix speed index recorded a 66% increase in connection. Netflix agreed to a similar deal with Verizon in 2014, after Verizon DSL customers' connection speed dropped to less than 1 Mbit/s early in the year. Netflix spoke out against this deal with a controversial statement delivered to all Verizon customers experiencing low connection speeds, using the Netflix client. This sparked an internal debate between the two companies that led to Verizon's obtaining a cease and desist order on 5 June 2014 that forced Netflix to stop displaying this message.
Favoring fast-loading websitesPro-net neutrality arguments have also noted that regulations are also necessary due to research that has shown low-tolerance to slow-loading content providers. In a 2009 research study conducted by Forrester Research, online shoppers expected the web pages they visited to download content instantly. When a page fails to load at the expected speed, many of them simply click out. A study found that even a one-second delay could lead to "11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions". This delay can cause a severe problem to small innovators who have created new technology. If a website is slow by default, the general public will lose interest and favor a website that runs faster. This helps large corporate companies maintain power because they have the means to fund faster Internet speeds. On the other hand, smaller competitors have less financial capabilities making it harder for them to succeed in the online world.
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