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Should the World Bank care about net neutrality?

Sameer Vasta's picture

Net neutrality is a hot topic right now in various countries around the world, with the debate over its value and its feasability being tied to discussions about broadband penetration and service delivery over the internet.

For a quick definition of the concept, here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:

A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.

In essence, net neutrality advocates argue that internet service providers (ISPs) should not be able to discriminate against certain kinds of internet transfers and lower quality of service or access based on that discrimination. The concept of net neutrality says that ISPs don't have the right to restrict access or limit traffic or speeds to certain kinds of sites or certain types of activity — in the end, the user should be in charge of what they do once they have paid to access the network.

Computer wire by Don Solo on Flickr

Seems like a no-brainer issue to most, but that hasn't stopped hot debates around the world about the power of ISPs to control the content that their customers can access, and why they should or shouldn't be allowed to exercise that power.

My question today: should the World Bank care?

The World Bank's recent IC4D 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact report found that access to high quality mobile phone and internet services enabled development across all levels of the economy. It also claimed that access to broadband completed the information foundation for a modern economy and called for this access to be a priority in national development plans.

If good and widespread internet access is so integral to economic growth and development, does the Bank have a responsibility to ensure that this access is open, unfiltered, unshaped, and not throttled by ISPs? What is the risk in allowing traffic shaping to occur in developing economies?

All questions I don't have answers to, but that have been weighing on my mind for quite some time. If you have any ideas about net neutrality and the role that the Bank may have in the debate, let me know in the comments below.

For more information, check out the Wikipedia article on net neutrality, the FAQs on SaveTheInternet.com, and a multitude of other places around the web that have chimed in on the topic.

(Photo by Don Solo.)

Comments

Submitted by Mark on
In my view a neutral net is a Utopia. Firstly, the net is just a piece of infrastructure and it has no value without content and the rights of ownership of that content need to be respected, in some cases by shuting down content sharing systems. Secondly, some humans will not behave well on a neutral net and their actions will include denial of service attacks and hacking, which will affect other users. The net needs to be policed against this behavior. The only debate for me is how light or heavy a policing touch is needed.

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