Net neutrality

Kai Ryssdal Jun 16, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: You go on the Internet, doesn’t matter if you’re looking for news, music or some odd hobby. Everything is treated the same. Well, maybe not the same, but equal anyway. You might pay more for a faster connection speed, but not for more complex content.

Right now Congress is wrapped up in a fight about that content and whether some of it should cost more. The idea is called Net neutrality. Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for

And Declan can you explain what Net neutrality is all about?

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: The concept of Net neutrality is a little amorphous. It sort of depends in part on who you talk to but a generally accepted definition would go something like this: All bits should be treated equally, all Web sites should be treated equally. Companies that provide broadband service, largely broadband and cable providers, should not be restricting access to certain sites, should not be favoring some sites over others, should not be pulling this kind of marketing scheme: We have a business arrangement with Google to provide high-speed video services but not Yahoo so therefore Google video is going to be prioritized over Yahoo. That’s the kind of stuff that Internet companies are trying to prohibit through new laws.

KAI RYSSDAL: Do you think this is actually a political issue? A technical issue? Where does this fall in the spectrum of all things that we could call it?

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: I might be in the minority here, but I would call this neither a political nor technical issue at heart. Instead it’s a business issue. This is a dispute between very large, well-capitalized industries that happens to be playing out before the US Congress.

KAI RYSSDAL: OK, but governments regulate business issues all the time?

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: Absolutely right. The thing that makes this a little different is that it would be taking sides in the debate, and even in fact by doing nothing it’s still taking a side. And that’s what makes this issue different from a lot of sort of the run-of-the-mill regulations.

KAI RYSSDAL: Play this out for me in terms of what it’s eventually going to cost the consumer if there is some sort of premium system allowed to proliferate on the Internet. You know, if Google winds up paying Internet Service Providers more to get its video stream higher priority, eventually Google customers are going to have to pay for that too?

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: Probably right, though if Google can put ads in there, then it might actually be able to make services available to customers that would not otherwise be created. It’s too early to say whether this is going to happen, but it doesn’t always mean that Google is going to have to send customers a big bill. That could be handled through advertising and obviously network television and cable television is a good example of how to do that.

KAI RYSSDAL: Any clue as to if and when this might come to some sort of decisive vote someplace?

DECLAN MCCULLAGH: The House has voted and rejected Net neutrality, the Senate has not yet voted and so everyone is now looking to the Senate. We haven’t seen all the details but that could mean that Net neutrality fans and their lobbyists are gaining a little bit of traction. Tech companies, eBay and Google come to mind. They are trying to basically rally support and focus it on the Senate now and so that’s where the debate is going to take place over the next few months. And so this really could happen this year. It’s a little unexpected because it’s a short year because of the election, but it certainly is possible. This is about as fast-track as the Senate gets right now.

KAI RYSSDAL: Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for Declan thanks for your time.


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