In its most basic and simple form, network neutrality states that all Internet traffic is equal. Streaming video, large downloads, online gaming, cloud computing applications and email would all be treated the same. There would be no differentiation between personal and commercial use of the Internet. The idea of equality is wonderful in theory, but doesn’t survive in practice. The Internet is a shared resource used for many purposes and like it or not, the Internet is a commercial enterprise and the providers have to be able to control their network.
That doesn’t mean that the providers can engage in unfair business practices. Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent users didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, it sparked a firestorm that still rages. The Court of Appeals gave Comcast a victory with its decision to vacate the FCC order, but this could be a Pyrrhic victory if it advances the net neutrality argument.
The experts, industry and politicians remain divided on the best way to manage the Internet. Some lobby for no control at all, but be controlled it must because the Internet is integral to our modern way of life. As any essential resource or infrastructure, the Internet must be preserved and defended. Like oil, consumer prices are controlled by the market, availability is controlled by the petroleum companies albeit heavily regulated, and the government maintains large reserves for among other reasons national defense. It seems the Internet will have a fate similar to oil.
What does the future hold? The crystal ball is cloudy, but my prediction is that the Internet communications backbone will see increasing government regulation, the Internet service providers will see more government rules, but will still be able to use a price for access model, and consumer prices will increase.