Why Net neutrality matters

Marketplace Staff May 17, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Tomorrow Congress considers a Senate bill that would revise the communications law. One section has some people worried. They say it could mean the end of the Internet as we know it. Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli covers technology for us. She’s been looking at the bill. I asked her, why are we hearing so much about this thing called network neutrality now?

LISA NAPOLI: You’re hearing a lot about it because there are a lot of people who’ve been rallying the media to talk about it. Network neutrality is a wonky sort of way of explaining the idea that all Internet traffic is created equal. Meaning that any e-mail that gets sent, any Web site that gets accessed is treated the same by an Internet access provider. Now there’s a provision in the Senate version of the revised telecom bill that’s been proposed that would in essence eliminate network neutrality, which means Internet access providers could technically charge you more money to access certain things online. Imagine a cable TV pricing model for the Internet.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: But the Internet has grown to be an enormous business for a lot of people. Why would anybody want to change it?

LISA NAPOLI: That’s what Google and eBay and the financial services sector have been asking. And that’s they’ve been appealing to the media and Congress and Internet users to make sure this elimination of network neutrality thing gets scotched.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The phone companies have something else at stake here don’t they?

LISA NAPOLI: Yes they do. The real interest of the phone companies in all of this is something completely different. What the phone companies really want from revised telecom legislation is the ability to jump into the video delivery market without going through the complicated and expensive licensing fees they have to go through right now. Now this would allow them to go head-to-head with the cable companies, which is what they’d like to do. Of course some people feel all of this legislation is going to get worked out in the end by lobbyists in the back room and that’s of course a whole other problem.

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