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Net Neutrality: The Debate Continues

Published June 6, 2014

Net neutrality is the philosophy of an open, free and unrestricted worldwide Internet, and it is a very complex issue.

Maintaining a free and unrestricted Internet with common access for all sounds appropriate, certainly from an academic institution's perspective. Some commercial providers have argued that higher priority channels should be created for certain types of Internet traffic, such as media streaming providers. The concept of several large commercial providers controlling and charging for high-speed Internet lanes causes great concern for smaller organizations that lack the financial resources to compete.

Many have denounced this proposal, arguing that the free and open nature of the Internet should be maintained for the good of all. This issue was reignited after a lower court ruling sent the FCC back to the drawing board on conditions for managing net neutrality. The FCC has recently issued a revised proposal for public comment, but most likely will not finalize a plan until after the next election.

Perhaps surprisingly, universities may not be in a position to fully advocate for complete net neutrality. U.S. research universities have created their own "special" Internet through advanced networks for specialized high-speed purposes. These networks are used exclusively by and for member academic and research institutions to keep university data moving quickly and efficiently.

In addition, most commercial providers already establish network priorities by "shaping" traffic for video or other media. Most large educational institutions also set priority Internet traffic on their local networks given the overwhelming demand for multimedia content (YouTube, Netflix, etc.).

What position should an academic institution take on this argument, and what is the right answer? Perhaps the solution isn’t so simple. However, it is difficult to argue with the fact that the current unrestricted Internet has resulted in astronomical information and access growth over the past 10+ years. Maybe this is the capstone argument for maintaining an open and unrestricted Internet.

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