This week MEPs have rejected a new set of rules for telecoms companies on how internet traffic is managed in Europe. If they had accepted the plan it could have had major implications for net neutrality. The digital experts at Inspiration Inc explain what Net Neutrality is, why it is important and the surprising fact that Facebook is against it!
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the system by which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide broadband networks which are completely detached from what information is sent over to them.
Broadband companies however, want to be able to slow down or price differently certain content due to a variety of factors of their choosing, which could include :
- Specific content (e.g. they could choose to slow down YouTube)
- Bandwith usage (Netflix is said to take account for 1/3rd of all internet traffic in the US)
- Enable telecoms companies to block certain types of data on political lines, e.g. communications from terrorist organisations
- Content from certain origins
How did this issue arise?
In May 2014, Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Tom Wheeler, released a plan that would have allowed cable and telecoms companies to discriminate online and create pay-to-play fast lanes in the USA.
There was such a huge public and political outcry that Wheeler shelved his original proposal choosing instead to base new Net Neutrality rules into the Communications Act. This gave American Internet users the strongest protections possible. The proposal was approved on February 26th 2015, guaranteeing the internet would remain open to all on equal terms.
However, now that the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules are out in the world, opponents are doing everything they can to undermine the open Internet, hence the vote in Europe.
What would a change in Net Neutrality mean?
The reasons for net neutrality is to ensure that no piece of information is favoured or prioritised over another. No piece is banned and only information that the end user wants to filter is actually prevented from entering a user’s home. For example, using software like NetNanny, internet content can be filtered or banned so that young children cannot receive it. Some ISPs offer a filtering service too, which can be activated to prevent certain types of content entering a household. However the information which can be accessed is not favoured or prioritised in any way.
However the ISPs want to regulate and prioritise content for commercial gain. As broadband prices tumble, they are looking for ways to increase their profits and they had to come up with a wonderful idea. They want to lift the rules on net neutrality.
Without a neutral stance in what is carried over their wires, network providers can choose to discriminate and decide how fast data will be transmitted and at what quality, enabling them to charge more for certain content. For example, if you buy your broadband from Sky, they could choose to prioritise Sky Movies and NOW TV packages over their data networks and slow competitor movie companies like Netflix or Amazon Prime, unless the end user pays extra.
What did the EU actually decide?
The EU’s focus is to ensure parity across its region. They are looking at common access and simplified legislation, to that end they have demanded that the telephone carriers cannot charge EU residents for roaming charges within the EU.
Their view is that Broadband suppliers are just telephone companies. Your phone company shouldn’t be able to decide who you can call/text/message, nor what you say on that call. Broadband should be treated in the same way. ISP shouldn’t be concerned with the content you view or post online.
Why is Facebook Against Net Neutrality?
Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg has invested heavily in a company called internet.org, which is a Facebook-led project to create a stripped down mini-web offering for poor communities and countries around the world. Zuckerberg is using his philanthropic credentials to make this service “free” to the user. Yet Zuckerberg’s team at internet.org will only provide a limited amount of data access, forcing people to connect to each other via his own networks. This is definitely bad for the concept of net neutrality, yet it is a powerful offering for the people of the countries within Zuckerberg’s sites (currently only Zambia however Sub-Saharan Africa is definitely within his line of site as is the Indian sub-continent).
According to reports in the New York Times, Zuckerberg is quoted as saying that “you can take net neutrality too far!” It is a dangerous opinion as the reality is that he actually wants to control the internet for multiple millions of users.
Zuckerberg won’t get his way in Europe, not now at least, but we are not sure we would want to live in a world where Murdock, or Zuckerberg or any other media or telecoms giant decides what we can, or more pertinently, what we cannot access on the World Wide Web.