Time to stop talking about net neutrality

It’s time we stopped talking about network neutrality and redescribed what we are trying to achieve here. The term has been distorted greatly to become a series of arguments about traffic shaping, network management, carrier profitability, and endless nit-picking technical arguments. This is distorting some important matters about the future of the Internet and only causing confusion. The term has lost its meaning.

And, in fact, there probably never was network neutrality. A few recent postings on the Internet History list have shown that, even in the pre-commercial Internet days of the NSF-Net, engineers were shaping traffic in order to give priority to the interactive telnet application (a precursor to world wide web) over the email and newsgroup traffic. Sensible bandwidth management.

For most of us, the reason for getting involved here was to protect a fundamental principle – the right for users to control which websites they can visit, which access methods, which applications they use, rather than this being forced on them by a carrier or other parties for their commercial gains. If this principle is lost, and we end up with something like a PAY TV model of Internet access where you pay to access certain sites, or content providers pay a premium to get fast access from carriers, something fundamentally important about the Internet will be lost.

The substance here is vitally important, but the terminology has lost its meaning. Perhaps we need to alk about equitable access to carriage for content providers, equitable access to content and applications for end users, and similar principles. It’s important to get this debate back on track.

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