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Does “Net Neutrality” Need a Better Name?

Silicon Valley Congresswoman Anna Eshoo thinks so—and has started a contest to find one

2 min read
Does “Net Neutrality” Need a Better Name?
Image: Wordle

Today, the Internet in most places operates under a policy of "net neutrality"—the idea that all data flowing through the Internet should be treated equally. That may be about to change in the United States. Early this year, a Washington, D.C., Circuit Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently has no authority to enforce network neutrality rules. And this spring, the FCC proposed new rules to govern Internet traffic that would allow broadband providers to charge for access to a “fast” Internet lane, relegating other content to a “slow” lane.

There’s a huge debate going on in the U.S. about whether continuing net neutrality is a good or bad thing. Generally, Silicon Valley companies think it’s good, because it allows start-ups and established companies equal access to the Internet; on the other side are Internet service providers who would prefer to be able to charge for preferred access or give their own content priority.

But the term “net neutrality” itself can get in the way of the debate. Comedian John Oliver charged that the term is being used intentionally to bore people, so they won’t pay attention to the importance of the issue.

And the phrase can be confusing as well as boring. To someone just coming into the discussion, does “net neutrality” imply that the Government should or shouldn’t pass laws regulating traffic on the Internet? (For example, it might seem that a “neutral” government wouldn’t pass laws regulating the Internet, but maintaining net neutrality in the U.S. is going to require regulation.)

Silicon Valley Congresswoman Anna Eshoo says its time to dump "net neutrality" and replace it with something more descriptive and energizing. People know what kind of Internet they want, she says, but, with confusing buzzwords flying around, they have no idea which set of phrases describes their desired outcome.

But what to call it? She’s crowdsourcing that answer by launching a contest on Reddit aimed at rebranding net neutrality. Suggestions so far include “Net Equality,” “Freedom to Connect,” the “Equal Data Act,” the “Digital Anti-Discrimination Act,” “One Free Internet,” the “Digital Freedom Act,” the “Toll-Free Internet,” “Unaltered Universal Internet Access,” the “Fair and Equal Internet Act,” the “FairNet,” and “The Old MacDonald Act: Equal Internet for Everyone Involved Online (EIEIO).”

The contest is open now; the winner will be declared on 8 September. Do share your thoughts in the comments below, but make sure to enter your suggestions in the contest as well.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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