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Digital Divide: The Issue of Net Neutrality

The students in next year’s freshman class were born in 1989. They don’t know a world without the Internet. Students have become dependent on the Web for their research, studies, and interpersonal communication.

But now access to the Internet may change, and the debate over network neutrality is about to boil over.

Net neutrality refers to the concept that a broadband network should operate without any restrictions on the kinds of equipment attached to it, or on the mode of communication allowed. Although no network can be completely neutral, net neutrality is an ideal condition that networks would strive to meet.

Currently, networks direct users and traffic to destinations without bias, no matter where the content comes from – that’s net neutrality, or as close as we can be to it right now.

Advocates of net neutrality say it means no discrimination. Net neutrality prevents Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

Companies such as Google, which generate tons of Internet traffic, fear network owners such as AT&T will start prioritizing some content over others so that some users and sites would get faster access.

It is true that some of the nation's largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner — have a lot of stock in the issue. Many network owners say they want a "tiered" Internet. If you pay to get in the top tier, your site and your service will run faster. They say maintaining neutrality will stop the advancement of the Internet.

Net Neutrality Concepts

Even the concept of net neutrality cannot be easily defined or agreed upon. The idea can be separated into three categories of theories.

Absolute non-discrimination’s idea is that a public browser will treat all information, sites and platforms equally. Cardozo Law School professor Susan Crawford, an adherent of this philosophy, believes that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regards for quality-of-service considerations.

Another idea under the net neutrality umbrella is limited discrimination without “quality of service” tiering. Many American lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.


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