10 October, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Net Neutrality in Popular Mechanics

In an effort to tell the stories of Obama and McCain and their positions of Net Neutrality, Popular Mechanics put together a great article describing the various issues involved in the Net Neutrality debate. Though too late in the game for Obama and McCain to devote time to sitting down and discussing with Popular Mechanics, they did get enough information to know the general positions -- Obama wants enough regulation by government to provide an open Internet while McCain does not want government involvement. Popular Mechanics summarized it as "John McCain is against Net neutrality and Barack Obama is for it."

The Popular Mechanics article does a good job describing the role of the ISP and the so called "last mile". We're reminded about the ethical issues around conflict in interest the ISPs have. For example, the ISP can provide a slower or throttled bandwidth, which would impact VoIP (Internet telephone) from 3rd parties while making sure their own VoIP solution has plenty of dedicated bandwidth. The same situation applies to video from 3rd parties versus videos provided by the ISP -- the ISP can make sure their product always perform better.

My position is that if you are an ISP, you should not be allowed to also be a content provider -- the conflict of interest should not even be a part of the equation. Do not allow companies to put themselves in a position of conflict, as history has shown us that they will make a decision that is not in the best interest of the customer.

Back to the Popular Mechanics article. The piece is finished with a discussion over where might wireless technologies fit within the Internet and Net Neutrality framework, if they do at all. And, whether Internet service should be considered a utility like electricity and water. The utility question is the fundamental difference in position between Barack Obama and John McCain, where Obama seems to put the Internet in the utility camp and McCain does not.

As much as I always worry about too much government involvement, I do think the Internet should be considered a utility, and therefore have some regulation that has some guarantees for all of us. Again, recent history shows us that many companies put their interest ahead of the average American, regardless of the ethical issues. If we want the Internet to be open and usable for all Americans, the government needs to take a more active role to make sure that happens.

Make sure you let your position know and vote in November.

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