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Network Neutrality Essay

2826 words - 11 pages

The concept of network neutrality (more commonly referred to as net neutrality) has been a fixture of debates over United States telecommunications policy throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century. Based upon the principle that internet access should not be altered or restricted by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) one chooses to use, it has come to represent the hopes of those who believe that the internet still has the potential to radically transform the way in which we interact with both people and information, in the face of the commercial interests of ISPs, who argue that in order to sustain a competitive marketplace for internet provision, they must be allowed to differentiate their services. Whilst this debate has generally been framed in terms of economic repercussions, it also holds considerable import in the realm of cultural policy. In this essay I wish to interrogate the potential ramifications of net neutrality legislation upon cultural policy within the United States, with particular theoretical reference to Jürgen Habermas’ theory of the public sphere, and to a lesser extent, Henry Jenkins’ theory of digital convergence. I will examine the arguments put forth by both the internet providers and net neutrality advocates, before considering whether net neutrality is needed for the internet to exist as a public sphere, and whether such conceptions are even applicable to the internet of today.

Policy debates such as this are not all unique to the era of the internet – in fact, they have been recurring in the United States since the introduction of the telegraph. The issue originates in a business structure common within the telecommunications industry, whereby companies heavily regulated by the government, such as phone carriers, provide the infrastructure and supply vital for the largely unregulated services that operate upon them. Yet at the same time, these two sets of companies compete for customers, creating a glaring conflict of interest. Whilst these issues seemed to be resolved by the middle of the twentieth century, the advent of the internet introduced a whole new set of problems. The term net neutrality, first coined by Tim Wu, Professor of the Columbia University Law School in 2003, came to represent a question that had long been perceived as being of relatively little concern – is unfettered access to the internet a right, or a privilege? (Cheng and Bandyopadhay 2011: 60) (Greenstein 2007: 61, 85) The debate around internet regulation and net neutrality first gained traction in 2002, when the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controversially ruled that broadband internet was to be classed as an information service rather as a telecommunications service, and thus made it exempt from a considerable range of content and conduct regulations that it would otherwise have been subject to. For those Americans, as exemplified by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who...

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