I was a guest on Nevada Public Radio today, talking about blogging. I was pulled in early and listened to the earlier show by phone. The topic was Google as an ISP but it quickly morphed into a discussion on Net neutrality. Eli Milchman was the guest. I would have loved to jump in on the conversation.
A caller asked a question that went something like: "I don't understand how neutrality controls how fast I see something -- I thought that had to do with the kind of connection, dial-up or DSL, that I had."
That's a hard question to answer in a non-technical way. The truth is that lots of factors contribute to how "fast" you see a Web site. The problem is that laypeople tend to conflate bandwidth and latency into a single concept they call "fast." ISP marketers haven't helped matters. Latency is the delay that a packet of data experiences from point to point. Non-neutral Internet connections would probably have a larger latency spread as some packets for paying sites were treated preferentially.
This is pretty hard to get the average consumer very excited about. For many things, you wouldn't really notice. For others, like VoIP, latency is critical. The issue is really whether or not carriers ought to be able to do what ever they want.
The libertarian in you might say "well of course--they paid for it!" But it's not quite that simple. There are broad societal issues with how this all turns out and very few packets traverse the 'Net that didn't go on cables laid in public rights-of-way that, for the most part, carriers use fo free.
Here are some resources on this issue: