From the Editor

Around the time you read this, the United States Senate likely will be considering a communications bill that may or may not contain guarantees of something called "net neutrality." If you haven’t heard of this yet, now’s the time to look into it because it’s a matter that could change the very nature of the Internet and the broadband apps and services your company uses online.

The issue is simple. The Internet was created as an entity called ARPANet, and its development was funded by the U.S. federal government. It has since been opened up to commercial interests, but a cornerstone of the magnificent growth of the net has been the idea that all content is treated equally, as packets. When you download a Web page, its packets are transmitted at the same priority as e-mail sent across the same lines. Larger transfers are sent at the same speed as tiny ping requests. Service providers have not had the practical ability to discriminate based upon content type. Providers have been able to improve the performance of their offerings and services by investing in local caching or purchasing dedicated, long-haul backbone transport.

The FCC changed these rules just over a year ago, but we haven’t seen any significant change in service. Now, taking advantage of their newfound regulatory position, some broadband companies are considering ways to fast-track some services—like their own streaming video services—potentially for a fee. If one type of content (or one company’s content) is transmitted more quickly, it is not clear that other providers could get a similar deal at any price. Without a net neutrality law, there would not even be a "no blocking" rule; if a service provider wanted to block content from a company like Microsoft, or Google, or yours, it could. Network operators claim that it costs them billions to provide service to large corporations. That’s true, and it’s also true that providers have always paid for their service. As it is, no provider gets a free ride.

What’s at stake if Congress doesn’t pass an "Internet consumer bill of rights?" There will be no legal safeguards to ensure that providers and consumers can continue to enjoy full Internet freedom. If you wanted to use Yahoo Music to download songs, but your ISP made its own ISPSongs in competition, you could inexplicably find that it has become more frustrating to get to Yahoo Music than the new alternative. On the business end, you could see VoIP, sharing of large files, or high-quality video streaming forced onto a "premium tier" of services. We’ve seen signs of this already, where some providers have blocked e-mail sent to subscribers that mentions competitive sites, unions, or whistle-blowing groups.

There are many potential permutations to be concerned about if existing legislation is not modified to improve net neutrality provisions. You can probably imagine some that would directly affect your business. If you have not yet familiarized yourself with the issues relating to net neutrality, don’t put it off any longer. At worst, you’ll be the most knowledgeable person in your office (as if you weren’t already just by reading TechNet Magazine), and at best you can make your views known to your elected representatives.

I’ll stop short of telling you which side we’re coming down on regarding the net issue. (You can probably figure it out.) For more information on Internet neutrality, Microsoft and other companies have created guides to the issue. You can either use your favorite search engine, or go to sites like Microsoft's Freedom to Innovate or Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus to find out more.


Thank you to the following Microsoft technical experts: Jon Avner, Tom Daemen, Adam Gordon, George Holman, Jesper Johansson, Robbie McAlpine, Geoff Morris, Michael Murgolo, John Orefice, Greg Stemp, and Carol Troup.

© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.