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Net neutrality has become one of the biggest Internet controversies. Find out more about its pros, cons, and governments' actions to achieve net neutrality.
What is net neutrality?
Network or net neutrality is a principle according to which all Internet traffic should enjoy an equal treatment. Defenders of net neutrality want Internet providers and governments to treat all data equally, without any kind of discrimination. A neutral network should have no restrictions to the content, sites, platforms, and quantity of data that can be downloaded. In technical terms net neutrality implies that the operation of a service at a certain layer is not influenced by any data other than the data interpreted at that layer, and in accordance with the protocol specification for that layer.
But how can network neutrality affect us? One of the best known cases that captures infringement of net neutrality took place when the US internet provider Comcast slowed down Netflix video streaming service until Netflix agreed to pay a fee to Comcast for a preferential or "fast lane" service.
Chile and the Netherlands were the first counties to enact laws to ensure network neutrality. In the US there has been an extensive debate and net neutrality has faced several challenges. For instance, in January 2014 a federal appeals court nullified some key provisions of a 2010 Federal Communication Commission (FCC) order on net neutrality rules. This decision opened the possibility for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to throttle Peer-to-Peer data sharing, block file-sharing sites, and implement pay-to-play plans, which all go against the spirit of the net neutrality principle. However, in February 2015, new FCC rules on net neutrality confirmed the basic rules of no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. The issue continues to be controversial. On May 2017, the FCC anounced that it wanted to reverse the Open Internet legislation passed two years earlier. As a reaction, the "Last Week Tonight" anchorman, John Oliver, an advocate of a free an open Internet created the website "Go FCC Yourself" website to flood FCC with comments in favor of maintaining net neutrality rules as they are. Over 1.6 million comments were received in a very short period of time. On 14 December 2017, FCC voted to repeal net neutrality. The Democratic party declared to bring the issue to the Capitol and on 4 January 2018, the FCC published a document which claimed to have restored "internet freedom" in the Code of Federal Regulations. But what are the implications of this "internet freedom"? Who will benefit from them? In fact the issue is far from being over. On 16 January 2018, the government of New York filled lawsuit against FCC in an attempt to reverse the repeal.
Net neutrality pros and cons
Pros of net neutrality regulation
- Network neutrality avoids that ISPs charge online services such as XBox Live, Playstation Plus, Skype, and Netflix for "fast lanes". These extra costs for "fast lanes" are problematic because they can make the services more expensive for internet users and also may prevent small companies from the capacity to compete with the big companies who have the budget to reach agreements with ISPs.
- Net neutrality avoids discrimination among users ensuring similar access to information for people of different socio-economic status. Without neutrality, high-speed internet for entertainment could be prioritized over education. And ISPs could change premium fees (“pay-to-play”) to enjoy special access to public libraries, benefiting the richest people.
- Network neutrality helps to promote freedom of choice, as ISPs cannot obstruct or incentivize particular contents or sites over others.
- Anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules prevent the capacity of ISPs to arbitrary decide to limit access or promote some type of content.The role of ISPs is to only "transport" data to the users that have paid for delivery, and therefore they should not shape content consumption patterns.
- Net neutrality promotes a level playing field for competing companies.
Cons of net neutrality regulation
- Regulation imposing net neutrality would limit new business ideas and concepts and could be considered against free market rules.
- Sponsored content and “pay-to-play” schemes may go against the net neutrality spirit, but they can help companies improve the overall service they offer. Heavier internet users may be charged more. With that extra money ISPs could increase the bandwith for all internet users.
- Thanks to sponsorships some mobile telecom operators may offer free internet access to some contents. This may enable those who don’t have data contracts on their smartphones to surf some areas in the internet for free. Similarly, it would reduce the consumption of other users’ data allotments.
- Regulation for net neutrality may limit the tools of governments and ISPs to fight against online “piracy”. Material infringing copyright laws will be easilty shared using P2P software. ISPs or governments won't be able to block or filter these contents, if net neutrality is fully respeced. Similarly net neutrality rules make more difficult to monitor and control controversial adult content.
- Some defenders of net neutrality question government intervention. For them it should emerge organically or naturally but not imposed through laws.
Watch these videos explaining the pros and cons of net neutrality
What do you think? Is net neutrality a desirable principle? Should governments step in or let the market adjust independently? Should governments offer free public WiFi?
If you change your mind, you can change your vote simply by clicking on another option.
Net neutrality pros and cons: Should governments intervene to ensure network neutrality?
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