Monday, April 19, 2010

More on the Basics - or Part II if you like

Okay, so in the last background on what net neutrality dealt with, I spent most of the time talking about Quality of Service (QOS), or essentially a telecom's self-designated right to determine how much service, or bandwidth, they will give to specific end-users, content or services...basically meaning that if they decide it so, they can block access or throttle back bandwidth for various functions on the internet.  They have their reasons for what they have done so far, more or less to ensure enough available bandwidth that everyone can access most stuff they need/want to do online, but there are also the great fears of what that means they can do (block competitor's sites or whatever they want really).  FYI, this is also sometimes called "data discrimination."

SO now that that has been established, let's move on to the next topic, namely the term "common carrier."  The FCC, as you now really, really know thanks to DC Appellate courts recent ruling (see previous post for more details), has no power to regulate the internet, why they don't is because the internet is not currently considered a common carrier in the U.S.  Things that are common carriers are telegraphs (yeah I know, who couldn't live without it), the telephone, broadcast airwaves (TV and radio), and some others.  Basically it pertains to major open communication sources (hence the federal communications commission), but carries the same meaning as transportation methods of the same name has.  When Taft was president and new bathtubs were being installed in the White House, he (after congress told him to) declared that telegraph, telephone, and radio were to be treated the same as the railroads (which were considered...yes, common carriers). Basically, that meant that those same methods of "travel" were to not discriminate who can use their service or how they can use it (within the law and safety concerns obviously) and were not to charge exorbitant prices as they had become necessary in a society dependent on them for whatever service they provided.  Okay...there thats common carriers, please modernize as necessary.

As a result of some of Bush's (W not HW) programs, high-speed internet (sort of considered a common carrier, but really not at all labeled) was given a different title of "information service" a little while back, due, at least in part, to the fact that the lines of communication were no longer FCC controlled lines (phone lines), but now cable or DSL lines (which yes, still transmit most often across telephone lines but how the data is transmitted is different enough to be considered separate).  Additionally, as an "information service" it basically meant that the internet didn't have a prime purpose of communication, but information and hadn't become so ingrained in society that it couldn't exist without it.

Now, in this article from Slate (which you'll notice I've already taken some info from), you see a pretty standard argument for net neutrality on legal grounds.  Points such as the internet progressing to not only be a standard for communication in this day and age, but also a necessary part of day-to-day life for most Americans is the basics of what they are saying.  I can't swear by this, but I would expect to see more info thrown around like this once actual legislation for net neutrality hits the floor of Congress.

I'm pretty sure most of the conservative out there who have already made up their minds are not buying much of this (it's okay, I generally look at everything I've posted about government regulation of the internet a little spuriously too), but this is probably the most interesting part.  The Bush administration reclassified internet as an information service in an attempt to increase competition (one of the original ideas behind the classification of "common carriers" in the first place), but since the classification, the internet service provider industry has actually decreased in competition yielding to the largest companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.  So there's that.  Either way, I'm not sure returning it to FCC regulation will fix that issue, just an interesting tidbit.  Okay, so thats about it for common carriers v. information services.

As I said before, please comment with disagreements or questions.  I can only better understand this topic if I know how others are looking at it too.  Thanks.

 Next up I will deal with the major players and why their interest in net neutrality is what it is.

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