The New Network Neutrality: Criteria for Internet Freedom

  • and Victor Pickard, Institute of Communications Research, UIUC
The "new network neutrality" would improve the global deficit in Internet connectivity, help propel the U.S. toward its goals of universal and affordable broadband, and provide a proactive foundation for supporting the goal of creating a more open and participatory Internet.
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The past year witnessed an event unprecedented in modern U.S. telecommunications history. A relatively obscure telecommunications policy debate spilled outside the rarefied airs of Congressional Committees and the Federal Communications Commission’s eighth floor to rage across the Blogosphere, major newspapers, YouTube and episodes of The Daily Show. This contentious discussion centers on an issue known as “network neutrality,” defined broadly as the non-discriminatory interconnectedness among data communication networks that allows users to access the content, and run the services, applications, and devices of their choice. Timothy Wu coined the term “network neutrality” in his seminal 2003 work, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” where he forwarded the idea that network architectures should be neutral purveyors of data. Fundamentally, network neutrality forbids preferential treatment of specific content, services, applications, and devices that can be integrated into the network infrastructure. Historically, network neutrality principles have been the foundation for rapid innovation and the Internet’s relative openness. Increasingly, however, telecommunications companies have signaled that within the newly “deregulated,” post-Brand X landscape, they are eager to create tiered Internet services paralleling the cable television business model.

As Congress debates whether network neutrality protections should be written into current legislation, the battle lines have been drawn between large telecommunications companies who own the pipes, on one side, and Internet content companies and public interest groups, on the other. The meteoric rise of network neutrality’s prominence has led to current events far outpacing theoretical and historical analyses. This paper addresses this lag in scholarship by contextualizing recent events in relation to historical telecommunications antecedents. In doing so, we critically evaluate the current network neutrality debate and offer a set of technical and policy guidelines for a new, more broadly defined network neutrality. Specifically, we submit that beyond redefining network neutrality, we must connect issues usually dealt with separately -- issues that are actually a subset of one overarching concern: Internet freedom. We conclude with an exploration of the social and political impacts of this broader conception of network neutrality and suggest that this “new network neutrality” provides a proactive foundation for supporting the goal of creating a more open and participatory Internet...

For the full text of Meinrath and Pickard's article, please see the PDF attached below.