Valuing Network Neutrality

Publication Date: 
December 12, 2007
Author(s): 
Mark Gaynor, Boston University
Scott Bradner, Harvard University

Network neutrality has been a flashpoint of Internet Policy for several years now. The question is whether a service provider can make speed the connections for subscribers to some sites and slow down connections to others. For instance, a service provider may strike a deal with Yahoo! search where Yahoo! would pay the service provider to ensure subscribers will get to Yahoo! very quickly. Connections to Google or other search engines would be slower.

One can quickly imagine how this would ruin the Internet - those who have the cash would generally be able to bribe service providers to ensure their content was always the most accessible. Fortunately, community broadband networks do not seek to maximize profits above all else -- which is one of the reasons many communities have chosen to invest in these networks.

This article examines network neutrality from a more technical perspective.

While the term “net neutrality” is new, the concept is not. An 1860 federal law subsidizing the construction of a telegraph line from the West Coast to the East Coast contains a sentence reading, “Messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority."

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