Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet companies such as Comcast and Verizon are unable to intentionally block or slow down websites or content online (Wikipedia).
In simple terms, whether you’re watching the latest TV show on Sky Go or Skyping your sister in America, the traffic is treated equally, which sounds great! Except, what if I’m a pro-gamer and I’m willing to pay a little bit extra to get some priority over you watching Game of Thrones on your mobile? After all, if I’m paying, it doesn’t matter if your TV programme takes a little longer to load. What if Netflix is willing to pay the ISPs some cash to make it’s streaming quicker? That’s great for me and pretty much everyone I know because we’re all Netflix users, so everyone wins?
Except for the people that don’t win (seems a bit harsh to call them losers). Innovation happens through competition. People strive to improve their services if they see their arch enemy doing better than them. And if the new video streaming social media app runs slow, it’s safe to say it won’t last long. Though they probably won’t have the money to go around paying all the ISP’s to make things go faster. And what about me, the pro gamer? Is it just tough luck if I can’t afford to pay that little bit extra to prioritise my traffic?
“Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn’t interfere with the content you view or post online.”
One of the best things about the Internet is that it’s a level playing field. It gives everyone an opportunity regardless of background or how much money is earned. It allows everyday people to have as much of a chance as a billionaire in creating something successful. A key argument for proponents of killing net neutrality is that market forces will take care of it anyway. Let’s say Sky have their own TV offering and Netflix was taking away their viewership; Sky could throttle Netflix to make it annoying to watch their slow streaming TV. And would they prioritise their own services? Of course, they would. So where does Netflix’s viewership go? You’ve got it in one.
And it’s not just the likes of Netflix that need to be worried. Freedom of speech has the potential to fall down the black hole of net neutrality too. “Now campaigners have suggested that similar rules could be put in place that would allow only media supportive of the Trump administration or other future presidencies to be given out to users for free”. This is an ample example of how the principle of net neutrality could easily be mistreated.
Although service providers swear that they would never introduce such rules. Instead, they only want the protections lifted so they can invest more money in infrastructure.
“Without Net Neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the internet into fast and slow lanes. An ISP could slow down its competitors’ content or block political opinions it disagreed with. ISPs could charge extra fees to the few content companies that could afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a lower tier of service. This would destroy the open internet.” – Griffin, Andrew.
Not every big company in America is anti-net neutrality. An open letter has been written by widely renowned internet creators stating that the FCC’s “proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of internet technology”. Signees included Vint Cerf, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, along with Steve Wozniak, the Apple Co-Founder, to name a few. The letter has been sent to the Senate’s commerce subcommittee on communications, technology, innovation and the internet. However, there’s not much hope being held out for the letter making much of a difference. The FCC is expected to vote against net neutrality on Thursday, December 14th.
It will be a very sad day for the internet if America chooses to get rid of net neutrality. And even sadder for the people who have worked so hard to get to where they are; only to have their business destroyed by big greedy corporate businesses. But we don’t need to worry yet, it’s EU law that states the internet remains open to all. Well, at least until Brexit happens, then who knows?