Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, without discriminating or charging based on user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.
The Net Neutrality term was coined by a Columbian media law professor, Tim Wu, in 2003 as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier.
At the United Nations sponsored Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul – Turkey, the Net Neutrality debate topped the agenda of the meeting.
This Internet Governance (IG) hot topic is believed to have been sparred by Federal Communications commission (FCC’s) move to consider rule changes that would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to create a multi-tiered Internet concept – meaning ISPs will have the mandate to restrict speeds for websites and their visitors, and allow them charge exorbitant rates for faster access. Such a move could culminate to consumers paying more for instance to stream videos on YouTube and or chat via Skype. If this didn’t startle you, picture this: an ISP blocking a service like Google maps and charging for their own! Well, how did you receive that?
From an economic point of view, this move could directly give an unfair competitive advantage to some content providers over others and in the worst case scenario, get them blocked all together just because they are from a rival and or competing company.
Internet Slowdown Protest
It is owing to this Net neutrality debate that on Wednesday 10th September 2014, Twitter, Netflix, and Reddit took part in the global online protest campaign dubbed the “Internet slowdown”. The campaign was aimed at raising Net Neutrality awareness to netizens, as well as urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support stronger net neutrality protections.
ISPs provide you Internet access. You can use it as much as you want, for anything that you may want while they may throttle speed depending on the type of traffic and your contract.
If the net neutrality proposal is upheld by FCC, it means that ISPs could decide to pass on the cost of delivering bandwidth-hungry up the cost of services to pay for delivering faster bandwidth – and raise the monthly fee they charge for net access. This is to say that users may get a bill that reflects their web usage, with those using video-on-demand services being charged more!
Assuming that ISPs get their way and are able to start charging fees for prioritised access to content, then users may find that those websites not in the fast lane are slow to load. Some Net neutrality proponents fear that ISPs might even block access to rival services or slow them down so much as to be unusable. This ultimately means that consumers could also be charged more by the content providers, and forced to pay more to get their services to them in quality.
So why should you care?
Since it’s invention in the late 1960’s, the Internet has transformed with time into a public space; simply implying that it is not publicly owned or controlled-but rather it works because its governance is open, inclusive, collaborative and transparent.
It’s nature of openness and diversity has culminated to innovation without permission (net neutrality), thus encouraging the free flow of ideas and the exchange of information across borders; spurring economic growth in the process contributing to socio-economic development the world over.
A free and open Internet is thus essential to our social progress as it promotes our economic and political freedoms.
As netizens, we should and must protect the principles embodied in the Declaration of Internet Freedom i.e freedom of expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy — to preserve our rights. Hitherto, these principles are under a never-ending attack.
According to the open Internet, a free and open Internet is the greatest technology of our time, and control should not be at the mercy of corporations.
Therefore, only a free and open Internet is capable of stimulating ISP competition, preventing unfair pricing practices, promoting innovation, and the spread of ideas.
Last but not least, a free and open internet will drive entrepreneurship and protect freedom of speech.
What’s the progress on Net Neutrality globally so far?
Firstly, USA President, Barack Obama, has thrown his voice behind the net nutrality debate in support of an open internet. He went on further to state;
"I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality." - Barack Obama
Chile is said to be the first country in the world to pass net neutrality legislation, back in 2010.
In 2014, the Brazilian government followed suit and passed a law which expressly upholds net neutrality, guaranteeing equal access to the Internet and protecting the privacy of its users in the wake of U.S. spying revelations.
Slovenia and the Netherlands on the other hand are the latest addition to the fold, as they have already enshrined the Net neutrality principle in their national law as well.
In April 2014, the EU Parliament voted to restrict ISPs from charging services for faster network access. It also ruled that mobile and broadband network providers should not be able to block services that competed with their own offerings.
Even though there are some more legal hurdles for the vote to pass, it could probably become law by the end of 2014.
In Africa however, no notable country has shown efforts to enshrine the Net neutrality principle into their national legislation.
As a global community of Internet users, we need to ask ourselves:
“Are we ready for the web disenfranchisement?”
If the answer is a definite “NO”, then we must stand up and play our part in keeping the internet a cornerstone of freedom and opportunity – for without an open Internet, big corporations would stifle innovation, and have tight control over how we access websites and services.
Cover Image Credit: Backbone Campaign