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What's Internet neutrality? Does it affect me?

Internet neutrality is the concept of advocating no restrictions on Internet content, communication or devices. Many users think neutrality exists now, and for the most part it does, but efforts to restrict use are clearly in play.

One Internet service provider, Comcast, intentionally slowed Internet traffic based on the peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol which is a legitimate file transfer protocol. However, it is also the protocol of choice among copy-right content pirates. Comcast throttled the user's download when the P2P protocol was detected because, in Comcast's eyes, the user was downloading pirated content. The problem with that approach is a user downloading a legitimate copy of Fedora Core 12, a Linux operating system, via P2P would also be slowed as Comcast had no way of knowing if the P2P file pieces were legal or illegal content.

Other companies have discriminated further against customers by deep packet inspection techniques which fine tunes the route Comcast took but allows the ISP to know the exact content in order to drive the decision to block the download or not.

Consumer rights advocates are not thrilled with the idea believing that if a subscriber pays for Internet access that nobody, including the ISP, has the right to censor the data traffic. Service providers think they have every right to control traffic on their network. They argue that a few users can account for a high amount of throughput affecting everyone's Internet experience so controlling the few is good business for all.

The FCC is not impressed with any access control effort. Having the most control over Internet neutrality, the FCC has written regulations that prevent ISPs from undertaking any type of Internet traffic gate keeping. The rules that will be voted on later this year can be found on fcc.gov.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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