Why We Need Net Neutrality — And Why We Need It Now

Some causes are worth fighting for and Net neutrality is one of them. Last week, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require Internet service providers to "not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service through the Internet." Congress has shot down similar measures twice before. This time we should make it stick.

Since the early days of the Internet, we as software developers have assumed the neutrality of network access as a matter of principle. Internet service, the assumption goes, is a utility like electric power. We pay for the amount of bandwidth we use, not what we use it for. Our Internet service providers should have no more say in what applications we choose to run than the power department should have a say in what kind of devices we plug into our wall sockets.

[ InfoWorld's Paul Venezia calls for a Technology Bill of Rights. | The debate over bandwidth: Why the Internet's future may be in danger. ]

In recent years, however, major telcos have pressured lawmakers to take a different viewpoint. As the Internet has assumed an ever-greater role in business and our daily lives, ISPs claim they have the right to adopt an active role in shaping the traffic that flows over their networks. They claim such interference will benefit network security, improve customer experience, and stimulate the free market. But if we want to see what the Internet would look like if the telcos get their way, we need look no further than the current situation on mobile networks -- and it's not a pretty picture.

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