Net Neutrality needs a dictionary

As a first step in addressing some of the issues being discussed all around the net in the name of Net Neutrality how about if we start to define some terms and definitions for the common man. Very seldom do any two people in this debate appear to be talking about the same thing, even when they are using the same words.

I’m not the first to suggest this of course, but I propose that rather than some kind of all-comprehensive telco bill, why don’t we start by putting in place a bill that defines some of this language in formal tems. Baby steps. Right now, none of these bills, or the debates about them, mean anything because we do not even have a clear definition of the term “Internet service” for instance. So let’s start there. Let’s define what “Internet service” means. Let’s identify the capabilities and expectations.

If I get a service that is locked to a device (like a PDA) and has restricted access to specific web sites, is that “Internet service”? The Internet Protocol defines what real Internet service is, so since most of us use NAT, right there we are already outside the original IP specs. So we can’t just use the RFCs. But we can refer to them.

We have to ask the provider “Does my connection restrict the protocols I can use?” “Am I restricted to Mail and Web or can I pass any IP packet I want?” “Can I use SSH?” etc.

With some definitions, when we go to purchase an “Internet Service” it can be classified with a “capability index” standard that tells us what kind of Internet Service it is, what to expect from it. “Wow, you want how much for just a Capability 2 service? No thanks.”

If we at least start to get some of these things defined, when a telco or any service provider decides to block traffic to Craigslist or whatever, they may have to reclassify the formal definition of the service they use in advertising the service because it no longer meets the requirements of the Capability 5 service they advertise. If they don’t support VoIP, you’ll know before you sign up, etc.

This seems a lot simpler than all the Net Neutrality bills being tossed around. It doesn’t totally solve the problem of course, but it’s easy (and therefore a lot cheaper) and it could make a difference in practice. If nothing else, it would make people more aware that “Internet Service” doesn’t always mean the same thing, and it’s more than just upload/download speed.

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