Net Neutrality or the Internet Neutrality as the Oxford Dictionary states, is the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.
The term was coined by law professor Tim Wu in 2003, when he first used the phrase ‘net neutrality’ in his law review article. The debate of Net Neutrality has been active in media since September 2013 due to a trial that was held in Washington because US based telco Verizon said that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had exceeded its authority by enacting network neutrality regulations.
FCC is an independent body in US that regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states. It had issued Open Internet Order in 2010, which was designed to prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking or slowing users’ connections to online content.
FCC in the order said that the net neutrality rules were intended to “preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.” (To view the order click here).
Without having Net Neutrality, ISPs can prevent the users from visiting some websites, provide slow speed for certain websites and also redirect the user from one website to the competing ones. The rules will keep a check on all this and provide users to all lawful content on the internet equally, without giving preferential treatment to certain sites or services. In India, no clear guidelines have been laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for or against net neutrality.
Rules to Guard Net Neutrality
US President Barack Obama supports the concept of net neutrality and has laid down certain rules to protect it. He has asked FCC to implement strongest possible rules to ensure that “neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online”.
The rules suggested by Obama are as follows:
- No Blocking: If a consumer requests access to a website or a service, then ISPs should not be permitted to block it.
- No Throttling: ISPs should not intentionally slow down the speed of some content over other, based on their preferences.
- Increased Transparency: FCC should apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between between the ISP and the rest of the internet so as to negate the possibility of special treatment some sites might get.
- No Paid Prioritization: No service on internet should be struck in a slow lane because it does not pay a fee. An explicit ban to be put on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
Barack Obama in a statement said, “More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.”
Why should we have net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that all net users should be equally treated. The idea of free/open internet necessarily means that all of its resources, benefits and means to operate on it are readily available and easily accessible for all individuals and companies.
Rules imposing net neutrality will make sure equal distribution of information or resources available on the internet, worldwide. According to a report by Cnet, Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented World Wide Web believes that net neutrality laws are critical for the future of the internet. He said when he designed the World Wide Web, he built it as a neutral, creative and collaborative space.
Net neutrality is crucial for fresh entrepreneurs and startups, who rely on the open Internet to create a market so as to launch their business, product or services. Without having an access to open internet they will not be able to grow. Thereby, it will only help already established companies to further grow, restricting innovation probabilities and job opportunities that these start-ups provide.
Open Internet is central to projects of social justice and political change and awareness of people. Network discrimination might make people feel crippled and helpless if they’re being barred for accessing harmless useful content.
On the other hand people who are opposing net neutrality are saying that the added revenue that will be generated by giving online companies a willing to pay the ability to transfer their data packets faster than other Internet traffic, could be used to pay for the building of increased broadband access to more consumers. Also large companies achieve a performance advantage over other smaller companies by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. And so the difference can not be neglected or dissolved.
As we can see many people stand up for it and many opposing it. The debate on net neutrality will intensify in the future. However, no matter authorities think or come up with, its necessary for the people to realise the importance of free/open internet and whether this entire scenario it or might in future restricting their right of free speech.