Neutrality of the Net

Submitted by timbl on Tue, 2006-05-02 15:22. ::

Net Neutrality is an international issue. In some countries it is addressed better than others. (In France, for example, I understand that the layers are separated, and my colleague in Paris attributes getting 24Mb/s net, a phone with free international dialing and digital TV for 30euros/month to the resulting competition.) In the US, there have been threats to the concept, and a wide discussion about what to do. That is why, though I have written and spoken on this many times, I blog about it now.

Twenty-seven years ago, the inventors of the Internet[1] designed an architecture[2] which was simple and general. Any computer could send a packet to any other computer. The network did not look inside packets. It is the cleanness of that design, and the strict independence of the layers, which allowed the Internet to grow and be useful. It allowed the hardware and transmission technology supporting the Internet to evolve through a thousandfold increase in speed, yet still run the same applications. It allowed new Internet applications to be introduced and to evolve independently.

When, seventeen years ago, I designed the Web, I did not have to ask anyone's permission. [3]. The new application rolled out over the existing Internet without modifying it. I tried then, and many people still work very hard still, to make the Web technology, in turn, a universal, neutral, platform. It must not discriminate against particular hardware, software, underlying network, language, culture, disability, or against particular types of data.

Anyone can build a new application on the Web, without asking me, or Vint Cerf, or their ISP, or their cable company, or their operating system provider, or their government, or their hardware vendor.

It is of the utmost importance that, if I connect to the Internet, and you connect to the Internet, that we can then run any Internet application we want, without discrimination as to who we are or what we are doing. We pay for connection to the Net as though it were a cloud which magically delivers our packets. We may pay for a higher or a lower quality of service. We may pay for a service which has the characteristics of being good for video, or quality audio. But we each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.

When I was a child, I was impressed by the fact that the installation fee for a telephone was everywhere the same in the UK, whether you lived in a city or on a mountain, just as the same stamp would get a letter to either place.

To actually design legislation which allows creative interconnections between different service providers, but ensures neutrality of the Net as a whole may be a difficult task. It is a very important one. The US should do it now, and, if it turns out to be the only way, be as draconian as to require financial isolation between IP providers and businesses in other layers.

The Internet is increasingly becoming the dominant medium binding us. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true.

Let us protect the neutrality of the net.


  1. Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and colleagues
  2. TCP and IP
  3. I did have to ask for port 80 for HTTP