Most people who think about it will subscribe to the view that net neutrality is both a good thing and a must.
All data should be treated equally by ISPs on the net.
And even more, those who provide the channels should not be able to influence or control the content flowing through the channels. There should be no ‘digital discrimination.’
Somebody has posted on Wikipedia a surprisingly succinct description of net neutrality:
‘it’s the principle that ISPs and governments should treat all data on the internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.’
There is a video from Aussie comedian John Oliver on YouTube which explains net neutrality and cable companies and government and big business and selected net speeds. The issue of all data being treated fairly and evenly is the big one, as the future unfolds.
John Naughton wrote in The Guardian technology pages (26 July 2014) that the ‘principle that all bits traversing the network should be treated equally was a key feature of the internet’s original design. It was also one of the reasons why the internet became such an enabler of disruptive innovation.’
Net neutrality, in other words, enabled everything generated by anyone ‘would be treated the same as bitstreams emanating from a giant corporation. Neutrality kept the barrier to entry low.’
Naughton felt that the principle was excellent, but created inflexibility for some. Like the notion you should never tell a lie – ‘excellent in principle, unfeasible in practice.’
When the net was confined to files and emails, the methodology of ‘breaking each communication into small data packets and dispatching them, often by different routes, to their destination, where they are reassembled into the original communication’ was sufficient.
However, with the advent of ‘internet telephony, streaming audio and video emerging, it looked like a good idea to give them privileged treatment because otherwise quality was degraded.’ He said that Netflix and others came along, they were ‘outraged that their bits had to travel in the same third-class carriages as everybody else’s.’
Therefore, big ISPs thought of putting those ‘bitstreams into a fast lane and charging their owners accordingly, thereby earning more revenue and throwing neutrality out of the window.’
US Court Ruling
The American Federal Communications Commission (FCC), normally enthusiastic supporters of net neutrality, found itself challenged in court by major US ISP Verizon where they won the right to charge a fee for all traffic on its network and so started charging Netflix for ‘providing a fast lane for content to Verizon subscribers.’
The FCC consequently started a public consultation of its plan to allow ISPs to charge for fast lanes on ‘commercially reasonable’ terms. Thus, the principle of neutrality was condemned.
It’s thought nearly a million objections were received and they had to provide extra capacity at the FCC to cope with the angry traffic. A number of telecom corporations also submitted opinions in lengthy documents.
Naughton felt that the FCC will read and ignore the million expressions of anger or declarations of the wonderful neutrality principle. The FCC is bound by the US congress to make rules ‘that can stand up to legal challenge.’ Most ordinary people can’t supply arguments for that.
He concluded that it’s sad but true, ‘even in a democracy, rule-making can’t be done by plebiscite, online or off.’
Not Just in the USA
Save the Internet campaign sets out the long term implications of new charging regimes, harder communication online, censorship from companies who act as gatekeepers on our web activity and, worse, where government and business work together, we’ll have a perfect tool to extend government spying on people’s daily activities.
The Internet Society sets out a case for more formalising a variety of issues around the net in order to protect its accessibility and continuing evolution.
Open Rights Group summarises how we got to where we are today effectively.
It’s worth following Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s take on this argument. As you’d expect, he makes a lot of very clear common sense. And at the present, it’s free t listen to him.
Other recentish blogs about the internet to check out:
The Internet Is Outdated, So Welcome to the Outernet, 8 April 2014
Three New Internet Dangers Should Set Alarm Bells Ringing, 17 December 2013
Live Longer to Enable You to Spend More Time Online, 21 October 2013
Image: Save the Internet