Net Neutrality and Broadband

Mark Cuban’s testimony before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet (see story) echoed a point about net neutrality that students made in a recent Internet law class, which is that increasing the amount of high-speed bandwidth should moot the need for legislation to mandate open Internet architecture. The premise for tiered, priority delivery of designated Internet content (e.g. streaming video) is that because the network treats all information as equal and network bottlenecks interfere with consistent high-quality delivery, then certain traffic should have higher priority. If every user has a high-speed broadband connection then the bottlenecks disappear and the need to favor delivery of some packets over others evaporates. Said Cuban “[t]his issue goes away completely if bandwidth constraints go away . . . It’s like our highway system: If you have 100 or 1,000 lanes, there’s no need for an [high-occupancy vehicle] lane.”

The current problem, and the reason not to be complacent about the issue of net neutrality, is that high-speed broadband access is hardly universal. Fiber optic Internet has been available in my Boston suburb for less than a year. Its pricing is competitive with coaxial broadband yet most of my neighbors have not switched. Many users, in the greater Boston area and beyond, do not have the option of fiber optic broadband connections. As long as coax and DSL are the primary means of broadband access, priority delivery of content and net neutrality will be issues.

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