The demise of Net Neutrality

Robert Wilson explains why we should fear the demise of net neutrality.

Robert Wilson
9th March 2018
Image: Wikimedia Commons

When we go on the internet, we don’t expect to pay extra to listen to music, send messages on social media, or just watch cute dog videos to try and fill a void in our cold, dead hearts. We wouldn’t expect Netflix to load slower, or be blocked entirely, just because the company who provides our internet has buddied-up with Amazon Video instead. No; for now our net is fair, or ‘neutral’. You can thank Net Neutrality for that… though maybe not for long.

‘Net neutrality’ (NN) refers to the laws that make sure the internet is the same for everyone, and that no websites are treated differently to others. The Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) make money from supplying this service, and these are the companies who have to abide by the neutrality rules.

NN is part of why the internet has worked so well since its invention, so you wouldn’t think it possible for these laws to be threatened in any way. But somehow, following a decade-long game of tug-of-war between activists and those trying to scrap these protective rules, the latter has just won. America just lost net neutrality, despite massive public protest (obviously).

This malicious assault on the open internet was headed up by Ajit Pai, who serves as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - which is the part of the US government responsible for regulating the internet. Endless jokes can be made about his name, that is true, but the joy he brings stops right about there. Chairman Pai, having been a former lawyer for Verizon (a massive Internet service provider in America), and appointed for this role by President Trump, was likely already causing some alarm bells to ring when he got the job in January 2017. And on the fateful day of 14 December 2017, the FCC voted to approve Pai’s uncool plan to kill the net neutrality laws that had been in place since years before.

Certain websites might pay ISPs to prioritise them while the competition gets slowed down

But what does anyone stand to gain from flushing net neutrality down the toilet? With the strict rules gone, it’s those pesky ISPs who could make more money. For example, certain websites (rich enough to afford it) might pay the ISPs to prioritise them, while the competition gets slowed down - or worse - because not all web content gets treated the same anymore. To make it worse still, this hurts smaller web services who won’t have deals with ISPs, so they can’t provide competition against the big names, who will be able to keep their prices high as they are the only choice.

Indeed, it’s not looking great for the internet users in America (so, everyone). But more importantly, what about our net neutrality in the UK? Will our ISPs (Sky, Virgin, BT) see their American cousins across the ocean making much more money and try to push for the same thing to happen here? No one can say for sure. Currently, net neutrality rules are protected in EU law. And when Brexit comes, it’s looking like the government shall carry over net neutrality rules to UK law; but it is still possible for Parliament to make changes before then. If it just happened in America, does it take much imagination to see countries like the UK next for the chopping block? I sure hope not.

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