There has been a lot of talk about the state and the future of broadband Internet lately. Since I am looking into the design of ubiquitous systems for my research and the legal perspective, I looked at the concept of network neutrality and its possible impact on wireless network infrastructure design. This year, the US Congress will probably enact legislation about network neutrality that could change the way Internet is, and not just in the US. Because of that, there has been a lot of activity and discussion about what network neutrality should be and how it should be protected.
But first, what is network neutrality?

[Network neutrality] suggests that (1) to maximize human welfare, information networks ought be as neutral as possible between various uses or applications, and (2) if necessary, government ought to intervene to promote or preserve the neutrality of the network. (Wikipedia)

Network neutrality basically means that whatever content you want to transmit over the network, this content will be treated in the same way as any other content by the network infrastructure. The Internet was built on a the principle of best effort delivery, which means it can guarantee you that it will deliver your content but it will do its best.

Best-effort delivery describes a network service in which the network does not provide any special features that recover lost or corrupted packets. These services are instead provided by end systems (Linktionary)

The 2 concepts of network neutrality and best efforts are usually associated to a third concept: common carrier.

A common carrier is an organization that transports a product or service using its facilities, or those of other carriers, and offers its services to the general public. (Wikipedia)

The best example of common carrier are post offices. A post office usually pick up and deliver letters and packages regardless of their content (unless the content is deemed dangerous to transport).

When Internet took off, telephone companies were considered common carriers and will transport the traffic from and to their clients to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that the client has chosen.

When dial-up was still prevalent:

  1. The phone companies like BellSouth, Qwest or Verizon would provide the phone line (the “pipes”)
  2. ISP like Earthlink or AOL will provide the Internet service on top of the phone line.

But with broadband technologies like DSL, phone companies could better control both the pipes and the service .

And this is where the problem lies.