Net Neutrality: What, When and Why
A very discussed topic in recent times goes by the name Net Neutrality. Essentially, it’s the concept of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treating all data on the internet the same way without charging different amounts depending on content, website, platform, application etc and of course the user.
Old issue — New name
The term was first devised by Columbia University professor Tim Wu back in 2003, while the term itself is fairly new, the ideas underlying net neutrality have a long history involving the United States of America as well as many other countries since the Internet became legally available for commercial use in the late 80s. It was Tim Wu and Lawrence Lessig who first raised the issue of neutrality stating how the Internet is structurally biased against voice and video applications.
The Federal Communications Commission failed to strongly implement its own principles. With several cable companies and operators like Madison Rivers and Comcast violating FCC’s terms, it was only during 2005 to 2010 when FCC really attempted enforcing net neutrality, making its first network management decision in August 2008. In August of 2010, Google and Verizon tried to make large parts of the internet to exempt from protection from the net neutrality rules from the FCC which later leads to FCC creating Open Internet Rules and finally allowing Net Neutrality to go into effect in 2015.
What’s with the recent hype?
Net Neutrality took social media by storm earlier in 2017 when the Federal Communications Commission’s new chairman Ajit Pai objected to the 2015 Open Internet Order; in a press release he mentioned how he planned to “modernize” FCC policies. He quickly began to roll back some of the policies implemented by FCC during the Obama Administration.
In May 2017, FCC started rolling back net neutrality regulations. This spearheaded a coalition named Battle for the Net in June, led by several major advocacy groups including Fight for the Future, Free Press Action Fund and Demand Progress. Over 50,000 websites including MNCs participated in what Fight for the Future called “the largest online protest in history”.Over several courses of hearings and replies, Ajit Pai unveiled his plans to repeal the net neutrality policy in the USA, the five person FCC vote counted to 3-2 in favor of reversing the regulations.
But how does this affect us, the consumers, you ask?
With no more net neutrality, imagine having daily limitations on how much of YouTube you can watch, how much of Facebook you can scroll, and most importantly how much of Google you can surf. Providers and operators could potentially charge more for individual services and limit how much of it you can avail. Imagine losing online games over and over again just because your opponent pays for a better connection to the game servers. Yes, we already pay our ISPs for our overall connection but with net neutrality gone, ISPs can now charge for individual sites and servers. The repeal will permit broadband companies (such as AT&T and Verizon in the USA) to speed up some websites, slow down others or charge them new fees — a move that critics say could reshape the Internet ecosystem to favor large, established incumbents.
The good news? This does not affect us outside the US, not yet. Won’t be long till other countries think if they can, we can too, though.
But the repeal isn’t settled yet. With major corporations and consumer groups suing the FCC to overturn its decision, only time will tell how the future will be shaped.
What a tangled web they’ve weaved.