RESOURCES > Glossary
Below you'll find definitions for some of the terms used in the current legislative battle over "net neutrality." For more information on matters referred to in "Internet @ Risk" and the MOYERS ON AMERICA Citizens Class, visit the Timeline, Documents, and Sites of Interest sections.
An application service provider (ASP): is a business that provides computer-based services to customers over a network. The most limited sense of this business is that of providing access to a particular application program (such as medical billing) using a standard protocol such as HTTP. Larger scale ASPs include Google, Yahoo!, MSN and other prominent Internet-based services.
Broadband: Broadband is a descriptive term for evolving digital technologies that provide consumers with access to high-speed data services. The 1996 Telecom Act mandates the FCC to ensure deployment of broadband "that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics and video telecommunications." DSL and cable modem, both popular consumer broadband technologies, are typically capable of transmitting 256 kilobits per second or more. The FCC measures broadband connections as 200 kilobit per second.
Broadcast Flag: A broadcast flag is a set of status bits (or "Flags") sent in the data stream of a digital television program that indicates whether or not it can be recorded, or if there are any restrictions on recorded content. Possible restrictions include inability to save a digital program to a hard disk or other non-volatile storage, inability to make secondary copies of recorded content (in order to share or archive), forceful reduction of quality when recording (such as reducing high-definition video to the resolution of standard TVs), and inability to skip over commercials. In the United States, new television receivers using the ATSC standard were supposed to incorporate this functionality by July 1, 2005, but a federal court struck down the Federal Communications Commission's rule to this effect on May 6. The stated intention of the broadcast flag was to prevent copyright infringement, but many have asserted that broadcast flags interfere with the fair use rights of the viewing public.
Cable: The term cable Internet access (or simply cable) refers to the delivery of Internet service over a special type of modem that is designed to modulate a data signal over cable television infrastructure. Cable modems are primarily used to deliver broadband Internet access, taking advantage of unused bandwidth on a cable television network. There were 22.5 million cable modem users in the United States in 2005.
Common Carriage: A network usage principle that guarantees that no customer seeking reasonable service and able to pay a competitive price would be denied lawful use of a transportation service or would otherwise be discriminated against. For centuries, common carriage has played an important role in the infrastructure services of transportation and communications. In the US, it was broadly applied to railroads and later communications media. In 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a telegraph company is a common carrier and owes a duty of non-discrimination. The Internet version of common carriage is net neutrality.
Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006: Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) has introduced a bill that will induce sweeping changes to the current telecommunications laws. According to a summary released by the Senate Commerce Committee, the Stevens bill would require local governments to act on cable-franchise applications within 30 days, using a national-franchise application crafted by the FCC; require the FCC to issue a network-neutrality report annually for five years on how information is transmitted over the Internet; require cable operators, for the first time, to contribute cable-modem revenue to fund rural telecommunications subsidies; provide rural telecommunications-service providers, for the first time, with subsidies to provide high-speed-Internet access if they roll out the service within five years; provide cable voice-over-Internet-protocol service with the same interconnection rights with Baby Bell phone networks that competitive telecommunications carriers currently enjoy; require cable competitors, including direct-broadcast satellite, to receive access to cable-affiliated channels that carry sporting events, but allow cable to maintain exclusivity for nonsports programming currently exempt under federal program-access laws; authorize the FCC to establish a broadcast flag to allow TV stations to protect digital content from Internet piracy; allow local governments to offer high-speed-Internet service and encourage them to do so through ventures with private companies; Require the FCC to allow unlicensed devices to operate in portions of the television-broadcast spectrum not being used by TV stations but in a manner that protects TV stations from harmful interference; allow large-capacity cable operators to transmit from the headend analog copies of digital-TV signals that have elected mandatory cable carriage, provided cable operators also provide subscribers with the digital signals; Permit small operators those with 500 megahertz of capacity or less to provide must-carry digital-TV signals in analog format until Feb. 17, 2009, with digital carriage optional; and Require TV-set makers to place labels on analog-TV sets that won't receive digital-TV signals with over-the-air antennas after Feb. 17, 2009.
Discrimination: The term used by Net Neutrality proponents for prioritizing one form of online content, applications or services, over any other by fee structures.
DSL: Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, is a family of technologies that provide digital data transmission over the wires used in the "last mile" of a local telephone network. Typically, the download speed of DSL ranges from 128 kilobits per second to 2.4 megabits per second.
Duopoly: Any marketplace where consumer choice is limited to two service providers. In the broadband world duopoly applies to the cable and DSL services that today control the majority of the residential and small-business broadband market.
Fiber Optics: A much more advanced means of relaying information than traditional phone or cable lines, optical fibers are strands of plastic or glass that are used to transmit beams of light that can be encoded and decoded by computers. Fiber optics offers a number of advantages over traditional wires-much higher transmission speeds, greater fidelity and increased security-but the cost of setting up a fiber optic network and devices that can utilize it had been prohibitively high. Also, unlike traditional cable wires, optical fibers can't transmit electrical power to the devices to which they're connected. Some telecom companies have been burying fiber optic networks at a frenzied pace, however, anticipating a time when their use will be much more common.
Incumbent: A broadband operators that has already established services within a given marketplace.
The Internet Freedom Preservation Act: One of two net neutrality bills in the Senate, this bill was proposed by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND). According to Dorgan, the bill would ensure that all content, applications and services are treated equally and fairly on the Internet by prohibiting broadband network operators from blocking, degrading, or prioritizing service on their networks. It was rejected on June 29, 2006.
The Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006: One of two Net Neutrality Bills in the Senate, this bill was proposed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). According to Wyden, the bill focuses on not interfering with, blocking, degrading, altering, modifying or changing traffic on the Internet; not being allowed to create a priority lane where content providers can buy quicker access to customers, while those who do not pay the fee are left in the slow lane; allowing consumers to choose which devices they use to connect to the Internet while they are on the net; ensuring that consumers have non-discriminatory access and service; and having a transparent system in which consumers, Internet content, and applications companies have access to the rates, terms, and conditions for Internet service.
Internet Service Provider: An ISP is a business or organization that offers users access to the Internet and related services. Many but not all ISPs are telephone or cable companies. They provide services such as Internet transit, domain name registration and hosting, dial-up access, and leased line access.
Some municipalities are setting up citywide fiberoptic and wireless systems. Some such project have met with opposition from the telecom and cable industries, and currently 14 states prohibit or make it difficult for municipalities to set up such systems. CNET maintains a interactive map of projects and legislation.
Network Neutrality: An Internet operating principle which ensures that all online users are entitled to access Internet content of their choice; run online applications and services of their choice; connect their choice of devices that do not harm the network; and have open competition among network, application, service and content providers.
Network Operator: A service provider that provides high-speed connections to the Internet using whatever technology, including but not limited to cable networks, telephone networks, fiber optic connections and wireless transmission. Net neutrality is the Internet version of common carriage.
Pipes: The physical infrastructure that delivers broadband to an end user.
Telecommunications Act of 1996:
Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 8, 1996, it was the first major overhaul of federal communications law in more than 60 years. It addressed a number of newer telecom services, including cellular phones and satellite and cable television. The Act paved the way for a number of major mergers within the telephone industry, and though the intention was to deregulate the communications industries and promote competition, in reality consumers saw a decrease in choice of local telephone operators in the succeeding years. (Find out more about media consolidation.)
Short for voice over Internet protocol, VOIP is a relatively new form of voice communication that could someday make traditional phone lines obsolete. Instead of traveling through a network of wires, voice calls are converted into digital information that is sent through the Internet to be decoded by computers in the same way that video, music and text are. Many cable companies are starting to offer VOIP as an added bonus to their video and data services.
Any form of communication that relies on the radio waves to send and receive information is described as being a "wireless" technology. Wireless communications have existed for decades in the form of radio and television, but newer devices such as cell phones, computers and digital satellite services are doing more with the airwaves. Most of these services existed in wired form first, such as traditional phone lines and dial-up Internet access.
Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity):
Wi-Fi is a manufacturing standard developed and tested by a trade organization in order to ensure that a multitude of computing products-computers, PDAs, cell phones and others-can operate on local wireless networks. If you use your laptop to connect to a wireless network to surf the Web at Starbucks or a school library, your computer has been made to meet this standard. Wi-Fi also enables consumers to set up wireless networks in their homes through their Internet service providers.
WiMAX (World Interoperability for Microwave Access, Inc):
WiMAX refers to broadband wireless networks that are based on the IEEE 802.16 standard, which ensures compatibility and interoperability between broadband wireless access equipment. The WiMAX Forum advocacy group was started in 2003 by wireless equipment suppliers to further the standards effort and establish product certification rules. WiMAX promises to extend Wi-Fi networks across greater distances, such as a campus, and provide last-mile connectivity to ISPs and other carriers that might be miles away.
Sources: Freepress.net and The Center For Public Integrity, Trapeze Networks