The United States has been at loggerheads with itself trying to establish its position in the internet domain. Most Americans are in favour of embracing net neutrality as it would allow an equitable space against commercial outplay. However, the current political administration has been thinking in different lines with its focus on dismantling net neutrality. The US authorities’ agenda queues to tendering the liberty of shaping and pricing internet into the service provider’s pockets. Such a regulation is anticipated to cause major repercussions, affecting other countries around the globe as the rest of the world has been looking up to the US to set an example in this arena.
So what does Net Neutrality refer to?
Net neutrality refers to an internet space that enables and safeguards free speech. It caters to the right of communicating freely online with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provide open networks to support such free-flowing communication. As a guiding principle of internet, net neutrality refrains from blocking and discriminating against any content and/or applications that run over such networks. The regulation closely resonates that of the telecom industry, i.e. like the service providers don’t decide who one calls and what conversation takes place between individuals, similarly net neutrality reinstates the freedom where the ISPs shouldn’t interfere with any of the content user’s post online.
If net neutrality ceases to exist, it could potentially destroy open internet. It poses a threat as the phone and cable companies could manipulate the internet into fast and slow lanes. This means that an ISP could easily slow down its competitor’s content or block any opinion that it disagreed with at any point. Moreover, they could even indulge in offering preferential treatment to some content companies by levying extra fees, thereby downgrading others to a slower service tier.
The Net neutrality laws pertain to the regulations and laws that apply to the net neutrality principle. In April 2014, it was considered that the US Federal Communications Commission would be considering a new rule that would allow the ISPs to offer a swifter track to the content providers for transmitting content, thereby reversing their previous proposition on net neutrality. Subsequently, in May 2014, the FCC came up with two options.
The first option was directed towards permitting faster and slower broadband lanes and the second one was to re-classify broadband as a telecommunication service. While the first stance would mean compromising on net neutrality, the second would preserve it. In November 2014, President Barack Obama recommended classification of broadband internet service under the telecommunications tab so as to reserve net neutrality. In February 2015, it was ruled in favour by the FCC with the rules going into effect on June 2015.
Nearly two years later, reverse attempts are being made to compromise net neutrality. As per the latest net neutrality developments in US, with Ajit Varadaraj Pai stepping in as the FCC Chairman in April 2017, the regulatory body announced its final verdict on ending the internet freedom. In November 2017, Pai proposed for a voting to be held by FCC members slotted to take place on December 14. This would decide the fate of net neutrality with members polling their opinion on whether to repeal the policy or not.
What would internet look like bereft of net neutrality? As we discussed, without net neutrality in the long-run, large internet companies like Silicon Valley giants and telecom biggies would lobby lawmakers and drive this opportunity to sustain their own business interests. However, at this juncture, a check on net neutrality could impact the internet speed as well as hinder its overall accessibility.
Some of the prominent drawbacks could be as follows:
Slower speed: Eliminating net neutrality means that the ISPs with their ability to manoeuvre service into slow and fast lanes as desired might charge escalated rates for higher service a reason why Netflix tweeted “strong support” for neutrality, in response to FCC’s proposal. Moreover, if content companies refuse paying, the ISPs could slow services to make them unwatchable or even block access, especially to competitor’s sites.
Higher prices: With reversal of net neutrality rules, sending messages on social media, playing online games, watching favourite shows on Hulu or Netflix could become dearer. This means that those who can afford will enjoy higher speeds and ones in the lower income bracket of browsers will have access to restricted view of the internet.
Possible variant choices: Efforts towards eliminating net neutrality holds the argument that less regulation will increase investments and heighten competition in the ISP sector. Pai said that this would be in favour of American citizens as it seeks to benefit consumers and increase accessibility. However, in areas experiencing a slack, it would be challenging to achieve greater choice for the customers, while the ISP would continue to benefit from this regulation.
Open Internet has played a key role for several communities, especially for organizing social justice against racial discrimination. With imposed restrictions on net neutrality, the freedom to scribe messages and voice opinions on websites will become limited. Quite possibly the momentum with which activists are able to amass people’s support will be hindered to a great extent.
Role of net neutrality in business: Net neutrality is central to small businesses, especially to entrepreneurs and start-ups as they heavily rely on the open net forum to launch business ideas, create markets, advertise services and products, build networks and communicate with customers. Interruptions in this domain mean that opportunities and visibility online will decrease deterring job growth, innovation and competition in the market. With ISPs as the internet gatekeepers, reversing net neutrality will empower the ISPs with the freedom to abuse the independence in every possible manner.
How such changes can impact other countries? US is not alone though, some countries that do not have net neutrality include Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Israel and Slovenia. A few countries, especially the developing nations are vulnerable to being misled by the current changing internet regulation scenario. In the beginning of the century, American tech organizations and start-ups too gleamed with internet allowing space for innovation and equitable competition. Companies like Amazon, e-Bay, Google and Facebook, all tasted fame with net neutrality and today Facebook is heading to other countries for setting up an advantage for itself in order to prevent similar open competition. India too is among these budding countries trying to frame its approach towards net neutrality. Last year the zero rated “Free Basics” by Facebook was banned by the Indian authorities. Let’s see whether and how the Indian net neutrality policies survive in the context of America doing away with its net neutrality protections.
Article by Rochita.