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Network neutrality is the new common carriage

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PurposeThis article considers internet system development with reference to what is currently termed the "network neutrality" debate; its aim is to develop improved ways of reasoning about the role of the public interest in networked communications infrastructures. Design/methodology/approachTo assess the degree to which a general non-discrimination rule would be possible or useful, this article this article reviews documented examples of differential service by internet service providers that already occur. It then compares these practices to older debates about common carriage. FindingsMost of the debate about network neutrality focuses on a few kinds of content discrimination, while there are many more varieties at work. While the focus of the debate has been legal, the problem is often technological. Many kinds of discrimination are now at work, often secretly. Practical implicationsRather than one grand, neutral rule for a neutral internet, there is a need for a normative framework that can provide a larger picture of the role of this infrastructure in society, and therefore a way to reason about whether a particular kind of discrimination is normatively good or bad. There is also a need for more public disclosure of actions taken internally by internet providers. Originality/valueThis paper provides a set of examples that expand the scope of the network neutrality debate, adding nuance and complexity. It also calls into question the novelty of the issue and suggests that it is unlikely that a single rule (or a small set of general rules) will resolve this dispute.
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Keywords: Discrimination; Networking; Public interest; Telecommunications

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 20, 2007

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