Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Net Neutrality and You

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the idea of “Net Neutrality”. What is it? What does it mean? And how does it impact me? These are questions you might ask. And these questions are a little bit difficult to answer.

What is it?

It all begins with the word “Bandwidth”. This is a buzzword that gets thrown around tech circles quite a bit. It basically means: how much data is flowing through any system. If you could take on the old “Information Superhighway” metaphor, a high-traffic road that takes you to very busy destinations would be like a high-bandwidth connection. You might imagine a beltway freeway around a busy city. Conversely, a low-traffic side street could be compared to low-bandwidth. There’s not as many people hitting those websites.

There’s also certain kinds of data that require higher bandwidth. Pictures, for example, have generally bigger file sizes than text. Audio is even bigger still. Video files are the largest of all. Imagine that these are like vehicles on the road. Someone driving a motorcycle can zip and turn into any little side street and park wherever he finds a spot. Someone driving a car is more limited in where they can go. A big semi pulling three trailers had better stay pretty much on the freeway. What I’m saying is that the big stuff needs high-bandwidth to carry it effectively.

So, what’s happening is that some people are starting to talk about certain kinds of content being allowed only on certain kinds of connections. And if a site needs more bandwidth, they’d be required to pay for the bigger roads.

On the surface that makes sense. Those that use it more need to pay for it more, right?

But the trouble is that it also sets up a tiered system of access. The big sites, that use lots of traffic, and are making more money because of it, can afford the better access. The smaller sites can’t afford it, and some say that will weaken them and marginalize them.

It goes even further. Some want to “Buy Out” certain internet roads, so that only their content vehicles can drive on them. If this is allowed, then the big companies will be able to successfully lock out smaller enterprises, and the playing field, which has been getting bumpier and bumpier already, will no longer even be close to level.

What should you do about it?

First of all, get informed. There’s lots of information, both technical, social, and political on the net about the issue. First, go to and do a search for net neutrality. Do the same at Google and Yahoo. Read the opinions on both sides of the argument. How do you feel about it?

Second, get involved. Let your congresspersons know how you feel. Go to, find your representatives, and send them a message. Don’t copy anyone else’s letter, but write your own. Include your story, your business, your needs. Tell them how this issue will impact you directly, in clear and calm terms.

My father used to say, there are three types of people: Those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that wonder what happened. Which one do you want to be?

No comments:

Post a Comment