What Is Net Neutrality and Why Is It Important?

By Jayden Andrews. June 11, 2020

2017 was somehow the year when net neutrality was a huge deal. Although the concept has been around for long now, some people still consider it as less vital. Most people around the world knew about net neutrality after the FCC abolished it.

This abolishment wasn’t taken seriously since there were different views about it which led to a net neutrality repeal. But what is net neutrality? In this article is everything you need to know about net neutrality, including its pros and cons and its state in different countries. So, read on.

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Net Neutrality Definition

Net neutrality is the freedom of accessing everything on the Internet without being blocked or restricted because of your activity. So basically, this principle insists that you should be allowed to do anything you want online provided it’s not illegal.

This term was invented in 2002 by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, when writing about consumer rights and the critical duties of ISPs. In his essay, he says that consumers should be allowed to do whatever they want, with the ISPs having a right to limit network abuse.

Net Neutrality Pros and Cons

Pros

1. Freedom of Expression and Digital Rights

Net neutrality makes it possible for websites or blogs to publish any kind of content. If there wasn’t net neutrality, then ISPs could be blocking content from rival sites that they don’t want you to see. An ISP might also block some content that it feels it’s not very suitable, hence making it hard to access it.

Senator Al Franken insists that without net neutrality, the major ISPs around the planet would take advantage of their power to suffocate people’s rights. Therefore, by ensuring people and all websites have equal rights, net neutrality would help eliminate the need to pay for access and also reduce media power centralization.

Robert W. McChesney and Lawrence Lessig argue that having net neutrality helps ensure the Internet is an open technology focused on enhancing democratic communication. They also insist that Internet monopolization would suppress the diversity of some independent news sources.

2. Promotes Competition and Innovation

Net neutrality helps ensure that larger and more popular companies don’t take advantage of new startups in the industry. Simply said, in an open internet, everyone has a chance to shine and impress the end-user.

Net neutrality advocates warn that if network owners are allowed to charge for access, then they’ll start blocking competitor sites as well as users who can’t pay. According to Tim Wu, most cable companies are planning to reserve bandwidth for their TV services and charge other companies that want priority services.

So, allowing preferential treatment by network providers would lead to less innovation in online services since new companies are disadvantaged. Tim Wu, points out that without net neutrality, the Internet will change from being a platform aimed at innovation to one focused more in deal-making.

Save the Internet also argues that net neutrality ensures equality since the quality of your website is what should determine your success level and not deals with ISPs.

Robert W. McChesney and Lawrence Lessig add that without net neutrality, the Internet would be like the cable TV world, where content distribution is reliant on several monopolistic companies that are always in competition. So, some sectors such as finance, health care, and gambling that need fast websites will be forced to pay more money.

3. Unfettered Access

Another major factor that makes net neutrality awesome is how it ensures internet users don’t get charged to access excellent services. For instance, you can’t be charged when you want to obtain a vital service like online banking, and owners of services such as gaming networks can’t pass their costs to you. So, net neutrality makes sure you never have to worry about paying to receive quality services or even faster streaming as that is the provider’s responsibility.

4. Proper Data Control

Most net neutrality supporters want to designate every cable company as a common carrier. Doing this would need cable companies to grant ISPs free access to their cable lines, hence making it hard for them to filter or interrupt with any content without a court order.

A net neutrality supporter like the Save the Internet coalition accuses telecommunications and cable companies of wanting to act as gatekeepers. What this means is that these companies wish to have the power to control everything even the different speeds at which sites loads with.

Vinton Cert, Google’s vice president, argues that the Internet should not have any authorities controlling access to services. He insists that broadband carriers having control over what people can do online would be undermining the principles responsible for making the Internet what it is today.

Cons

As much as this principle has advantages, it also has some cons that you should be aware of. The major ones include:

1. Little Network Innovation

The increase of more complex internet services, particularly video content, has caused a dramatic bandwidth demand. According to many service providers, this demand forces them to spend extra resources on capacity instead of service innovation.

2. No Improved Infrastructure

Charging for some services would help ISPs to get more money to invest. With net neutrality, you don’t pay for any services. If you and other users could be paying for these services, then that cash can help ISPs to provide a faster service even in rural areas.

3. Increase in Porn and Objectionable Content

Most net neutrality opponents argue that having some rules makes it easier to restrict kids from accessing adult content. Although many pornography sites have inbuilt tools that ask for age verification before allowing access, they are not always effective as anyone can lie about their age. Also, underage kids with phones can easily access porn since they won’t even be under any adult supervision.

Removing net neutrality laws can also make it easier for ISPs to get rid of peer-to-peer sites since they’re always behind online piracy and illegal content.

Net Neutrality and ISPs

For ISPs, the Internet is something they can easily sell to help make some cash as you have to subscribe to a particular plan to access the web. For instance, if you buy a regular plan from an ISP offering 5Mbps, you might realize later that it’s not enough to use on some sites smoothly. Some websites, especially streaming ones, will require certain speeds to access them seamlessly, thus forcing you to buy a special plan from the ISP.

So, you find that you mostly spend lots of money to help you access everything you want, including social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. One trick that most people use nowadays is installing a VPN. How does a VPN help, you ask? Having a high-quality VPN allows you to stay anonymous online, making it hard for ISPs to detect your usage. That way, you can access any website, including blocked content without needing any verification.

Also, with a VPN, you can easily bypass any limits placed by ISPs to restrict bandwidth, allowing you to browse and stream at much faster speeds compared to using your device normally.

Net Neutrality in Different Countries

The Philippines

The Philippines is the only country on the entire planet that does not allow net neutrality. So, ISPs enjoy more freedom since they can easily restrict the amount of content that’s available online.

The only people who might access more content are those with some WiFi or ethernet connection. Mobile users in the Philippines, on the other hand, experience many restrictions. For example, when you buy a data plan in this country, you are given a specific list of sites that you can visit. Doing this narrows the information people get from browsing and hence constricting public debate.

On top of that, these restrictions make it harder for startups to perform more. Considering the Philippines’ economy, allowing net neutrality would be advantageous because startups always offer job opportunities.

The United States

When Obama was President, the Federal Communications Commission placed some tough rules to ensure that all telecom providers offered free access to consumers. These providers were also ordered to maintain high speeds to every user. Doing this was a major move as it allows the FCC to keep ISPs in check.

The main reason why the FCC was too harsh on ISPs is because they had been taking advantage of users a lot. Here are the two major abuses by ISPs that triggered the FCC:

  • Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T collaborated to block Google Wallet after it failed to keep their e-payment system viable.
  • Comcast blocked some torrent applications without valid reasons.

Most ISPs were not happy since they had to abide by the implemented rules. Besides, the President and the FCC chairman backed up net neutrality, thus leaving ISPs no choice.

The FCC later proposed to revoke the regulations prohibiting wireless and broadband companies from blocking people’s access to some content, which caused protests. According to this proposal, the FCC wants to roll back the old rules and leave its power to regulate most broadband networks, to a different agency (the Federal Trade Commission).

Broadband companies are supporting the FCC’s idea to repeal these rules arguing that they are bad for business. Although Verizon was the main target during these protests, this company said that it supports an open internet and believes that everyone should access any legal content without limits.

Net neutrality supporters argue that broadband providers will take advantage of their power and shut out most of their competitors if the old rules are revoked. They add that doing so will undoubtedly lead to less freedom, hiked prices, and reduced innovation in the country.


Canada

Canada’s fight against net neutrality is mostly focused on the ongoing piracy, especially in the music industry. Many media companies in Canada have signed petitions to push the agenda of blocking websites, especially torrent sites that feature a lot of pirated content.

A few years ago, some European judges instructed ISPs to block access to most torrent sites. However, Canada bypassed these rules. This bypassing of the regulations by Canadian corporations makes their motives unpredictable.

Net Neutrality Done Right by the EU

The EU has played a significant role in helping to ensure net neutrality is adhered to by implementing some laws. One law by this institution is the EU Directive 2009/140/EC that focuses on protecting net neutrality. The EU also established BEREC (Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications) as a super organization that acts as a net neutrality watchdog and also protects the digital privacy of EU citizens.

So, the EU is very determined at ensuring ISPs do not mess with how people in this union access different content online or block any sites. Although the EU is trying its best, certain loopholes always come up that make maintaining proper net neutrality even harder. For instance, it’s very easy to get a judge to order for a site to be shut down. A good example is how The Pirate Bay was banned in the Netherlands. Such things are happening even in other countries like India and Portugal, where loopholes get exploited daily.

The last major offense against proper net neutrality happened in 2016 but was successfully defeated by citizens’ initiatives. Although net neutrality is not facing many challenges right now, its advocates will have to remain vigilant to help maintain it for long.

The Future of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality’s future now lies in the hands of courts, congress, and the states. In 2018, the FCC was sued by about 21 state attorney generals and some customer-advocacy groups to cancel the new rules and restore the old ones. The federal court ruled in FCC’s favor but said the agency shouldn’t override state-level net neutrality rules.

Several states like Washington and Oregon have already passed some net neutrality laws. California recently passed some vital laws, but they are still on hold as the federal government legally challenged them. Also, the governors of New Jersey, Montana, New York, Vermont, and Hawaii have passed several executive laws, banning all state agencies from dealing with broadband providers that don’t respect net neutrality principles.

In the meantime, expect broadband providers to gradually start following net neutrality laws. However, these providers will most probably not make any huge steps yet like slowing down the blocking of competing services because the court is yet to approve the FCC’s latest decision.

Expect to continue experiencing something like your data being eaten up even past the set limit. A company like AT&T has already started making some changes as it now allows you to watch its content without going past your data limit unlike services like Hulu and Netflix that do the complete opposite.

Net neutrality is a major issue that affects millions of people around the world. As you have seen from this article, there’s a lot to learn about net neutrality. Therefore, you can now comfortably answer the question, “What is net neutrality, and why is it important?” if asked. Net neutrality will keep revolving because new rules might get implemented with time. So, it’s vital that you continue researching on this topic. That way, you’ll stay updated and understand your new net neutrality freedoms and rights as they get approved.

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