Elance Blog

Network Neutrality: How It Could Change the Internet For Us

You simply can't overstate the impact the Internet has had on our lives, and with constant innovation in technology, we're spending more time than ever online—on desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs with browsers, etc. We break news online, organize campaigns that mobilize us, and connect with each other in ways that would have been unheard of ten years ago.

However, according to a recent study by the Institute for Policy Integrity, some technology advances haven't been for the better, with one area of concern being how Internet Service Providers can threaten "net neutrality"—the status quo in which all content on the Internet is treated equally—by creating an unevenful playing field that affects what we as consumers see on the Internet.

Some highlights from their study:

  • In the late 1990s, Internet traffic in the United States was about 1 terabyte a month, and doubled in size every 90 days. Today it takes only 25 Netflix users to generate that the same terabyte amount of traffic.
  • Network neutrality refers generally to treating equally all the information that flows across the Internet no matter the source, destination or type of content.
  • The distinction between Internet content and Internet infrastructure plays a crucial role in the network neutrality debate.

    • Internet content providers develop web sites and applications and then pay to upload them onto the Internet. End-users then connect to those sites and apps and download the data onto their desktops or laptop computers, phones or tablets, which are connected to the Internet by an ISP. Content companies do not pay for the traffic that the downloading of their information generates and have no control over how it reaches end-users. The interaction between content providers and ISPs has a big impact on the quality of Internet that consumers enjoy, but there is little to no coordination between the two industries.
  • Advances in technology, such as DPI, have changed the existing dynamic of how information moves around the Internet. Internet infrastructure owners can use new technology, like DPI to “prioritize” packets of streaming video by delivering them immediately while forcing other types of content to wait. Prioritized video service loads faster and is less likely to stutter or experience delays when the ISP’s network is crowded.

    • ISP’s can also use DPI to prioritize packets from a particular site like Amazon and/or slow packets from competing sites like Ebay. The advent of DPI has given ISPs the unprecedented ability to shape the flow of traffic across their networks.
  • The Internet currently operates under a de facto network neutral regime as it has since it began. This regime has generated huge amounts of consumer surplus and the amount of surplus is growing over time. No one knows exactly what will happen if we end this neutral regime and allow ISPs to prioritize content, but the burden of proof should be on the ISPs that want to change the status quo. Those who argue that we should change the regime should be called upon to show that these changes will not deplete the huge surplus that the Internet generates.
  • On October 22, 2009, the FCC formally proposed a net neutrality regulation, entitled “Preserving the Open Internet.”  The rule includes a provision that prohibits ISPs from “discriminating.”

    • Without these protections like these, there is a real risk that net neutrality will be threatened and ISPs will be encouraged to reduce investment in infrastructure, which will increase congestion and prioritization revenues.

To read the full study, please visit the Institute for Policy Integrity here.