These days, you can easily connect to the internet, entering Netflix and watch Pulp Fiction in the same way as you can have a video call with mom on Skype. Thanks to net neutrality, you don’t pay extra for those activities which require high-speed data.
If net neutrality did not exist, you would have to pay more to see a movie online than for using Wikipedia (or vice versa)
Currently, there is a debate in the world arena about the convenience of keeping such neutrality. There are many interests at stake. So what is net neutrality?
Know the reasons why net neutrality is a good or bad thing and the world panorama about it. We will try to cover those aspects for you, so you can make up own your mind about that relevant subject.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Know the term
The first thing you need to know is Net Neutrality is a principle. Its origin is political, not technical. Furthermore, it is not an established legal term in the United States and many countries. Under this principle, internet service providers and the governments that regulate it must treat all data traffic that transits through the net in the same way indiscriminately.
It means those providers cannot charge users a fee depending on the content, website, platform or application to the one that they accede nor according to the type of equipment, device or communication method they use for the access.
In this order, Net Neutrality prevents the contracted provider from charging additional fees for visiting a website to your account for the service provided. If this principle doesn’t exist, you will lose not only the freedom to see what you want online, but also, they will charge you more.
Net Neutrality origin
Back in the 90s, ex-Senator Al Gore coined the term “information highway” to make reference to the network of the associated digital communications and telecommunications systems and oriented to the global transport of information and knowledge. Later that term was used to describe the internet and it is a really excellent metaphor for it. The internet is a one-way super street where everybody goes at the same speed.
Nevertheless, for ones who support the end of Net Neutrality, that super-highway will be divided into several streets with traffic lights. In order to understand this, we must remember the origin of Net Neutrality concept.
Tim Wu is an American lawyer and a law professor who talked for the first time about Net Neutrality in his essay named “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination”. He argued it was necessary to regulate internet operators to guarantee equality in services terms. In this sense, Wu suggested that
promotion of network neutrality is no different than the challenge of promoting fair evolutionary competition in any privately owned environment.
He also predicted the communications regulators will attend more conflicts between broadband providers and the public’s interest.
In other words, Tim Wu supported the idea of imposing rules in the digital world to create a competitive framework, in the same way, capitalist systems established rules for companies to preserve free trade. Since 2003, this debate has been opened.
On the other hand, Vint Cerf, an American internet pioneer, prefers the concept of internet free and open. He also declared the internet is geared towards its finals users who have the power and control.
Net Neutrality over the years
Back in the 70s, the regulators wanted to prevent AT&T, which then had a monopoly on telecommunications, from obstructing the emergence of new telephone companies. There was a need for regulation and the law was established.
Then, at the beginning of the 2000’s, the attempts to regulate the internet failed. The reason was several courts of law refused to compare the Internet Services Providers (ISP) to telecommunications companies.
- Freedom to Access Content: Consumers should have access to their choice of legal content.
- Freedom to Use Applications: Consumers should be able to run applications of their choice.
- Freedom to Attach Personal Devices: Consumers should be permitted to attach any devices they choose to the connection in their home.
- Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information: Consumers should receive meaningful information regarding their service plans.
Later, in 2007, transparency and non-discrimination were added as internet principles.
Next, under the Barack Obama administration in 2015, the ISP could be compared to telecommunications companies, by using a law from 1934. So Net Neutrality began – This neutrality ensures that all internet content is distributed in the same way on the web. Likewise, internet access is considered as a public service, essential for modern life. Thus its coverage must reach the entire population.
Over the years, the FCC was arguing that current regulations are very strict. It says internet regulations discourage broadband investment. For the FCC, the current laws put telecommunications operators and public services in the same box. That avoids the investment in new services that require broadband such video conferencing, telemedicine and connected vehicles.
2017: The end of an era?
In December 2017, the American FCC with Ajit Pai as its director decided to make a move to eliminate the Net Neutrality. They voted for restoring internet freedom. It implies the main internet providers in the United States (Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T) will control the internet.
Ajit Pai was chosen as the director of FCC by President Trump who always was against Net Neutrality. Once, Pai argued, that the internet should not be treated as a public service because the open internet is bad for big investors. With no regulations, customers can buy a service package ideal for their needs at the same time, the entrepreneurs and small business can have the technical information necessary to innovate.
Although, on May 2018, the American Senate voted 52-47 to annul the repeal by the FCC of the internet neutrality rules approved by the Obama government. The Democrats argued if the rules are removed, the ISP will be free to suppress certain content or promote sites. So this battle is just getting started.
The Pros and Cons of Net Neutrality
In every matter, there is at least two opposite point of views. Let’s try to explain them to you. Only by studying the different arguments, you will be able to decide if Net Neutrality is a useful or a restrictive principle.
Know why Net Neutrality is a bad thing
Pai has said many times the open internet affects negatively the business development because it prevents the investments. Other of his arguments against Net Neutrality is the restoration of freedom. That is a polemic postulate.
First, when the term freedom is used, it suggested that we were in a state of restriction. And that is true because the legislation about Net Neutrality imposed certain regulations. So Pai said this restoration looks for the federal government to stop micromanaging the internet.
In this way, investments will increase and control will be taken by service providers. That would help to improve the quality of the internet and that is one of the reasons why Net Neutrality is bad for business.
Second, according to Net Neutrality principles, a bit is a bit. Regardless of the type of information that contains, who sends it and where it is going, as well as the time in which the data is transmitted. Big companies like Netflix pay the same as a tiny local online store, but being Netflix, it spends more bits than that little business.
With the restoration, the ISP may discriminate and reach agreements in the use of networks with companies that make an intensive use of the internet. Then, there would be equity in the payment of services, which is good.
Customers can decide what internet service plan is better. The higher the internet quality, the higher will be its price. Last but not least, the entrepreneurs and other small business (startups) can have the technical information they need to innovate. ISP’s must be transparent about their practices.
Besides those new and small businesses would have a certain competitive advantage, since they would not have to assume the costs that would be imposed on the big ones. So there are negative effects of Net Neutrality.
See the reasons why Net Neutrality is good
Detractors of so-called restoration of internet freedom claim several reasons to keep the laws around Net Neutrality.
A possible conflict of interests?
It’s necessary to indicate under the open internet, that it was forbidden to block content, slow down content or charge an extra for prioritizing some applications or services over others. This is about to change. The internet providers which will control the internet are AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. So far, so good, isn’t?
Parallel that, those big companies not only provide internet service but also they also create content. This is where the discussion begins. In this sense, a matter of ethics is put on the table. It is feared that these companies restrict access to their network to the competition.
It is also feared that they will worsen the user experience of the clients of other company and they force them to contract the services of a specific provider. Where would be the respect to free competition?
Moreover, those providers own media companies. Comcast has a majority stake of NBC and Verizon owns Yahoo. Without Net Neutrality, those ISP could easily prioritize their content over the competition. They could even block access to others sites considered as a competitive threat.
It would be hard to determine how fairness is decided and under what authority is it enforced. The general intent of Net Neutrality is that the provider should not have an interest in the content going over the network.
A legal matter?
In addition to that, it is discussed if a company should restrict access to a web without a legal decision. We are entering in the Human Rights arena because it might infringe the right of information access and that is dangerous.
Besides, big companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon might suffer a reduction in its users due to the high price of the service. At the same time is necessary to explore the internet freedom implication to small entrepreneurs. They might suffer the ravages of more expensive subscriptions in order to obtain high speed or the blocking of some services provided by the competition like streaming, internet telephony or search engines.
According to Ferras Vinh from Center for Democracy & Technology, this new American internet politics will bring a barrier for innovation creativity and competition.
Is Net Neutrality good or bad for customers?
That is the quid of our research. Studying how the end of Net Neutrality really affects the internet user, so there are some facts to consider.
A matter of money?
First, without Net Neutrality, companies like Google or Amazon may have to pay more in order to achieve the necessary speed. Obviously, this extra charge will surely transfer to the client in the subscription. Indeed, streaming services and telecommunications services provided are going to be expensive, like Spotify and Skype. You may need to know, back in 2014, Netflix had to reach an agreement with Comcast.
Netflix paid for improving the interconnection with its data network due the customers had complained about the slowness of the service. Something similar happened in Morocco in 2016. Several ISP blocked the internet calling services from applications like Whatsapp and Skype in order to promote the use of regular telephony.
In fact, there already are providers which offer special rates and free data consumption on certain applications in order to promote its use. Like Whatsapp and E-Plus provider in Germany. So there is some data traffic that is treated with priority or has advantages compared to the rest.
Second, with the restoration of internet freedom, two channels would have to be created. A fast channel and a slow channel that will be used according to the payment capacity of the producing companies. This additional cost will be charged to the user. In other words, the rates will increase due to the potential reduction of access and content offer inevitably.
Without mentioning people who live in rural areas. They might be affected if internet providers decided that it is not profitable keeping their business in those areas due to low population density.
Paradoxically, the customer might experience a restriction on internet access and an increase in the payment of such service. Restoration of internet freedom is its name, isn’t?
Furthermore, the end of Net Neutrality might increase videogames prices. Especially in online games because ISP’s could decide to charge more for the possibility of connecting to a game server and that price could be added to future games. You might even end up paying an additional fee for each hour of online play.
A change of experience?
Besides, with the end of regulations, the internet will look and feel something completely different. It will be the network in which ISP desires will determine what you will experience. Internet will feel like a cable television. The end of the open internet would force you to choose between different staggered packages depending on the services you need.
Actually, it is determined that one of the main reason why people prefer streaming over cable it is because there is no one that forces you to pay for several additional channels when you only want to watch Investigation Discovery channel.
That could be fine if you can manage with a limited and economic package. But for most people, it will mean paying an extra for applications and services that do not matter to them. For instance, you could end up paying for a monthly package and separately for additional packages to the services that today seem free.
What about Human Rights?
It is at this point that matters become thorns. Over the years it was discussed whether or not the internet is a Human Right. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments.
The resolution established “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online”. That decision is undoubtedly a clear precedent for the future consolidation of access to the internet as a Human Right.
In this sense, you should know that Human Rights are universal and inalienable. It’s the duty of States to promote and protect all Human Rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.
Then, if Net Neutrality and Restoration of Internet Freedom principles are political postulates related to one potential Human Right, hence, States should guarantee their protection. Now the problem would be to determine which of them we must protect.
In this direction, according to Human Rights progressivity principle, it should be respected that the new situations generated by technological advances in this matter. Technology brought the internet. The internet implies the access to information and freedom of speech which are already recognized Human Rights.
So make your own conclusions. In a world where people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg advocate universal and free access to the internet, discussing this restoration movement seems contradictory.
So we need to remember, Barack Obama administration treated the internet access as a public service. Indeed internet access has become something really necessary which might compare to access to electricity or clean water. Of course, this is something to analyze.
What happens in the rest of the world?
You must remember the Restoration of Internet Freedom is a resolution which applies only in the United States of America. Nevertheless, in these matters and over the years, this country is a world reference. Therefore it might inspire other countries legislation. Hence, in these lines, we will only mention the places which stand upon this matter.
Net Neutrality in Europe
The European Parliament and the Council approved the 2015/2120 regulation on November 2015. This regulation guarantees access to an open internet without restrictions. The blocking, slowing down, alteration, restriction, interference, deterioration, and discrimination of internet contents is forbidden.
Indeed, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, (BEREC) has developed some principles about internet use. It’s their mission to contribute to the development and better functioning of the internal market for electronic communications networks and services. These the main postulates:
- Practices that limit users’ rights, such as restricting access or blocking applications or web pages, are prohibited.
- If the network capacity allows it, telecommunications operators can offer value-added services to users, such as high-resolution options.
- Users must be informed prior to contracting the service, about the conditions of the plan. For example, about the speed of access or to determine if there are additional charges of any kind.
- The zero-rating techniques must be analyzed.
The zero-rating technique consists the ISP can offer rates or promotions to the customers, by discounting the cost or offering free access to certain applications or services previously selected by the operator.
In short, even when Europe seems to guarantee Net Neutrality, there is the possibility for ISP to offer some services which suppose new ways to make more money and infringe that neutrality.
Net Neutrality in Guatemala
The Guatemala treatment of internet access is the perfect example of the restoration. The ISP offers prepaid packages with access to only one application. So people acquire one SIM card with free unlimited Whatsapp. Other for Facebook and a third for any other with certain navigation data. Then they change the SIM or use a phone with three ports. For Renata Ávila, senior adviser of World Wide Web Foundation, that situation in Guatemala is like going to a large library and you are only allowed to read one book. This is really a disturbing analogy.
Net Neutrality in Chile
Chile has been a pioneer on Net Neutrality legislation. On 2010 the Neutrality Net Law appears. The blocking, interference, discrimination, obstruction and arbitrary restriction to the activities of Internet users is forbidden. ISP can take the necessary measures for traffic management. They should take care of the privacy of users, protection against viruses and network security.
Something to reflect
After the thorough analysis of the points surrounding the Net Neutrality, it is logical to conclude something hard. The restoration of internet freedom seems to benefit the ISP over the users.
In this sense, the big companies that provide internet services like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are the most benefited with the end of neutrality. Those companies have the infrastructure that supports the internet and the money to improve their services.
By the other hand, is mandatory keeping the open debate about the internet access in the Human Rights arena. If internet access was established as such, a whole new kind of regulations would be appearing. For guys like Gates and Zuckerberg, it would mean a sort of portal to improve the lives of billions because the net is a route to education.
Finally, the words from Pythagoras are right to form an opinion about it. Educate children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men.
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