Net neutrality issue rears head at Cebit trade show
By Christoph Dernbach Mar 19, 2007, 7:01 GMT
Hanover, Germany - Since the internet began more than 30 years ago, freedom to transport any data over it has been a constant, with nobody charging tolls which disadvantage any of the traffic.
As a venture shared by the US military and scientists, the internet did not prioritize who was to use scarce computing capacity.
Now concerns are growing that US telecoms companies are favouring telephone and television traffic on their residential broadband networks. Critics have devised the watch-cry, 'network neutrality.' The debate has washed over the Atlantic into the Cebit computer expo.
The rapid growth of online traffic is undermining the old sharing culture of not counting too closely who is using the bandwidth.
There have been signs that both AT&T of the United States and Deutsche Telekom of Germany would like to charge very large content providers such as the Amazon online shopping site, the Google search company or the eBay auction platform for using the infrastructure.
Those companies might be willing to pay to ensure that customers gain faster download times.
At Cebit, the world's biggest combined information technology and communications fair, a German trade group, Eco, complained that the proposed tolls will discriminate against smaller companies which are not able to match the fees paid by internet giants.
Berlin-based Eco not only represents backbone providers, but also content providers and vendors of internet software and hardware.
'The big boys like Google and eBay can afford to put up the money that backbone providers are demanding, or even to build their own bandwidth,' said Eco chief executive Harald Summa at Cebit.
'But smaller content providers cannot afford this. If this continues, they face extinction.'
In the United States, the debate over network neutrality has been underway for months and some observers believe it could be an issue in the upcoming US presidential election, with calls in the air for federal legislation against any kind of prioritizing of traffic.
German internet businesses charge that the EU Commission is too lax with its belief that free competition among providers will be sufficient to stop any of them slowing the access to Amazon, eBay and Google if they do not pay up.
In the view of Eco, the fundamentals of the internet are not just under threat from such questions of standards or disputes about regulation, but also by security issues that no one has yet been able to resolve.
Among those issues is spam, which uses up bandwidth and fills mailboxes with unsolicited advertising and criminal come-ons.
That alarm is shared by many others, such as respected Russian internet security expert Eugene Kaspersky, who warned in Hanover: 'If the growth in malware continues at the current pace, makers of anti-virus software may not be able to withstand the onslaught.'
According to Eco, rogue private users who post illegal content on websites are also a growing problem. Eco's arbitration panel received 70,000 reports last year of internet bad behaviour, often involving breaches of the law on swap and blogging sites.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur