The term ‘network neutrality’ (NN) was first used in 2002 by Tim Wu , a professor of law and author. By using this term Professor Wu wanted to qualify the fact that according to him no authority was entitle to decide what information was or was not accessible online.
Since 2002, and this first introduction to network neutrality by Wu, the concept of network neutrality evolved and became more commonly used. Nowadays, net neutrality means that all internet traffic should be treated in the same way without giving the right to internet service providers to block or slow down the access to specific websites. Net neutrality also prohibits internet service providers to charge customers in order to get a better service. It excludes any discrimination, blocking or throttling of any content.
This concept of net neutrality is a topic highly discussed today since a lot of countries are trying to find way to regulate it. This regulation regarding network neutrality differs from one country to an other. As an example, in Europe, the 2015/2120 regulation was established to protect network neutrality in countries belonging to the European Union .
Unlike Europe, the situation in United States regarding the regulation of network neutrality is more complex. In fact, the establishment of a law protecting network neutrality under Barack Obama’s presidency and the repeal of this law by Donald Trump very recently, created a debate within the American society about the importance of network neutrality.
In this essay, we will focus on the current situation in United States where two camps are opposed : in one hand the ones in favor of net neutrality and in the other hand those who are for a ‘free internet’ without any regulation.
The argument will take place if there should be net neutrality, where all internet users, websites, services will have the same speed (like on a highway, all cars going the same speed) or should there be a priorotized lane for the internet users who can afford (‘the fast lane’) by financial means, and perhaps make an exclusive deals with the internet provider to give them faster broadband.
As it is widely debated in different parts of the world, several points of view will be consdiered for example why it may benefit the internet user who is willing to pay more for faster broadband, and reach their customers with more efficiency compared to everyone else going in the ‘slow lane’. This essay will be split into 5 section examining different views of NN.
Network Neutrality in United States
To beingwe will set out the situation in United States and we will try to understand why President Trump took the decision to repeal the regulation about network neutrality.
Net Neutrality – better service, but for whom?
In a second part, we will explore why the concept of network neutrality is the center of lot of debates by exposing arguments in favor and arguments against it.
Pay more for better treatment?
In the fourth section we will examine the Internet Service Providers and about their interest concerning the revocation of the protection of network neutrality regulation or if NN can benefit the consumer as well.
Public interest issue
In the fifth section we will highlight the importance of free speech in NN and the consequences if such would diminish.
Based on the evidence a comprehensive overview willbe provided, leaving the essay with final thoughts from the writers.
Network Neutrality in United States
Since the creation and the democratization of Internet, a certain number of means were put in place to try to regulate it. That is why, in United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established. The FCC ’s aim is to regulate inter state communication medium as the television, the radio and more recently internet. In 2015, under Barack Obama’s presidency, the FCC released a law: the Open Internet Order which aimed to protect network neutrality in United States. Thanks to this new law, the high-speed internet was recognized as a telecommunication service rather than a information service as it was considered before. In the United States’ Communications Act, information services are found under the « title I » section and are restricted with less important rules than « title II » services which designate telecommunication services which are more heavily regulated. The shifting of Internet from a « title I » services to a « title II » services have for main consequence the strengthening of its regulation, and the protection of net neutrality was part of this change ( “2008 Performance and Accountability Report” FCC).
But in 2017, President Trump was elected. He designated Ajit Pai as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai, few years before being elected into this position, had been a lawyer for Verizon, one of the Internet Service Provider in United States. Nowadays, he is accused by many people to be still very close to Verizon and to act conforming to their wishes. In fact, Ajit Pai announced very quickly in November 2017 his wish to repeal the regulation about network neutrality. In December 2017, the FCC voted to cancelled the Open Internet Order, established only two years before ( Rudy, 2016). By consequence, Internet Service Providers gain more power over the internet and have the possibility now to choose to slower speeds for some website or to make customer pay to access to higher service.
This decision is highly debated in United states since it is supported by Internet Service Providers and criticized by some companies and some citizens. Actually, in 2017 a survey had been made by Mozilla and Ipsos with american citizens on net neutrality ( Snider, Yu, Brown, 2017). The result was that 76% of American people support net neutrality. And under this 76 %, 81% Democrats support net neutrality against 73 % Republicans. These results are showing that the majority of the US public opinion are in favour of a regulation which protect net neutrality. And the election of President Trump as a Republican president is not an argument to repeal this law since most of the Republican electors are also in favor of net neutrality. This led us to wonder why Trump’s administration started to take this decision about ending net neutrality. Donald Trump is indeed openly opposed to the idea of net neutrality since 2014. He was one of the complainer of Barack Obama’s law, and for him Obama’s fight to set this law was only a ‘power grab’.
According to Ajit Pai, the repeal of the network neutrality law has many positive effects. In his view, if there is net neutrality there would be a lack of money gained from customers and web platforms and this money could be reinvested to provide a better service for everyone including people living in rural areas. In fact, he argues that lot of marinas don’t have access to broadband and that the net neutrality law is to blame ( Freeman, 2017). The repeal of this law will allow ISPs to extend their service into areas in rural places. Pai’s other arguments is that if Internet service providers’ customers are not happy with their service they can change it ad choose an ISP which is better shaped for them. In reality, this argument is not valuable due to the lack of diversity of choice of Internet service providers in United States. Pai claims also that less regulation is a way to have more innovation. His opinion is that that the repeal of the law will conceive a more competitive market place. In reality, even if Pai tries to show the possible benefit that can get customers, his idea clearly emphasizes his wish to protect Internet Service Providers needs. In other words, under the law of network neutrality protection released by President Obama’s government, the service providers were prevented to do what they wanted. The repeal of this law allows them to get back their power.
Speaking of power, in the U.S. there was the infamous case of the loss of net neutrality where Verizon Communication Inc. Sued the Federal Communciations Commission (FCC) in 2010, due to excessive control over them as an internet provider. The FCC claimed that wireless and wired interent should be treated the same as public utlities (like gas and water) and to be regulated by government and use net neutrality rules ( Wyatt, 2014). Verizon which was a big interent provider considered such claims absurd and in the court of law intitally won, diminishing the net neutrality laws that government has emposed on interent service user. However the FCC returned with stronger acclaims of interent service providers as public utltities and eventally won, meaning that from 2014 all internet service users have to follow net netruality rules. Of the three orders that make up the FCC Open Internet Order 2010, two were vacated (no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination) and one was upheld (transparency).
This not only shocked wireless internet providers for smartphones but also affected all businesses running internet cables into people’s homes aswell. Not the mention the philosophical point of view, meaning that the internet providers in modern day as so crucial that they ahve to be regulated in a similar way. It was also defeating the whole idea that the internet is a innovative, incredible place, the idea that small start up businesses have the same chances in competiton as the big monopolies on the internet.
It was beasue of the liberty of the internet that small start-ups such as Facebook that originated from a Cambridge student’s laptop, could go and spread and prove its worthyness to its competitors in a fair way. Which of course Facebook did just that, and gained 600 million active users whilst its fair competitors like Myspcae was forced to cut costs, lay off staff and eventally lost 350 million dollars and became an unplugged social entertainment destination ( Hartung, 2011). If the internet loses its lierty, where is the sportmanship within the ‘online business running race’? It will no longer be just if the big players can pay off ISP’s to priorotize their business over a new player.
Net Neutrality -better service, but for whom?
Netflix Inc has claimed that that with the loss of net netrality large providers created congestion that had to follow the open-web rules (after the Verizon Vs FCC case). Intitally the service that the consumers of Netflix were reciving was shockingly bad (with bad connection and having to reboot constanlty) and so, a short-term solution was used by netflix where they routed the videos around the jams by distributing it to different Verizon channels. Verizon blamed Netflix for not managing the flow approriately. In this case it can be argued that Netflix was trying to provide a better service for its customers, to administer faster connection by using different flows of other channels, but for the intention of keeping custmers ( Shiels and Shaw, 2017). Of course, it can also be said that it was for the benefit of Netflix to provide the same service without having to pay a fee for faster internet connection.
It is also a common thought that Netflix is less concerned about net neutrality for the reason that exclusive deals have been agreed between internet service providers and Netflix at this time. There has been several news media outlets who have suggested that private peering deals have took place between Netflix and ISPs which have been confirmed by Netflix ( Brodkin, 2014).
This can lead us to the pro view of net neutrality, some people prefer to have the internet regulated to limit what the Internet Service providers conducts. For them, if there is no regulation, these ISP will be a threat to the Internet openness because they will have too much power. They will also be able to choose what contents can be viewed or not by users. These people believe that everybody is supposed to have access to the same rights. The fact that some companies can have a better service by paying more is a contradiction to the values of democratic countries.
From the evidence the most clear beneficiariesare the operators and service providers. They will have more room to manouver with no net netraulity, in additon ISP’s can charge a fee for faster services in a consequence of making the competiton on the internet relentless. In adittion, companies can profit by requesting fee’s from their customers e.g. ‘Facebook package’ who buys it, does not have to pay every time they want to access the social media platform. In an essence, these companies can potentially flourish ( Wattles, 2017).Some people may also add that the current generation needs to adapt to this new era of consumption and that we need to allow companies to compete amongst themselves and for consumers to pick and chose the service that is the fastest and best suitable for them.
Lots of service providers also argue that even if the law was repealed, consumers won’t feel the change in their everyday’s use of internet. For them, the repeal of the network neutrality law allows them to choose to highlight some websites or to hide others, but that does not mean that they will actually do it.
It should also be noted that service providers have to take into account the public opinion. An example of an internet provider losing customers was in 2007 and 2009 when AT&T prevented iPhone users to use certain application like Skype, in order to push their customers to use application provided by AT&T. The same in 2012 when AT&T put a limit on FaceTime for apple users, and this enraged a lot of consumers using apple products ( Goldman, 2012). If net neutrality was present, a company could not do such a thing to request an extra fee to use an App that the phone comes with, and so the customer base
Lastly, it can be considered some net neutrality attackers argue that NN gives more space for the government to control what is online, and that there is a need for internet to be independent from any country’s regulation.
The loss of net neutrality may also be favourable for the ISP’s because then they do not have to invest in a larger capacity of ‘lanes’ (for equal access for eveyone) but they can recieve the finanical mean from investing companies that do want a faster connection.
Pay more for better treatment?
Whilst there are several and various arguments occurring over the importance and equal access to the Internet, it is important to consider this topic from a controversial point of view as well.
In a democratic society, having an educated and aware population is crucial to make civilised decisions. The access to opinions, educating materials, debates, information, and raw data goes into gathering the knowledge to take part within the society.
However, when there is an extra fee to be paid for the basic internet access based on who a person is, and where the information comes from may be disadvantaging the minor societies who can not afford the different prices. For example, if you have electricity and gas at your house, you don’t pay a different price if your Romanian or Hispanic or your income is above a certain level. You don’t have to pay extra for telephones if you live in a poorer area after it became a regulated utility ( Bates, 2018). Putting different prices on basic Internet access can therefore be very dangerous at societal level, for dividing societies within a town and perhaps creating conflicts by taking away the democratic opportunities from the minorities. It is one thing if a person wants to travel and buy a ticket on the train. The ticket can be more expensive for luxuries e.g. champagne and push-seats, but the basic ticket should be available for everyone. Additionally, if the news and information flows do not support the well-information and well-educated electorate for a healthy democracy, then the economy, culture and society can suffer. In a way a country can start to develop backwards if people are not well informed, compared to other countries where there is open Internet access is funded. A way that funding could potentially continue to happen, is charging a higher price for luxuries so that the basic level of information is kept afloat.
However on the other hand, one can argue that information costs money, even it today’s world. Correction – everything costs money, and as demand is increasing for better, faster Internet and more and more information to some putting a price tag increasing demand may not seem as a huge travesty.
For example, even today TV companies charge more for better channels, popular TV shows like Game of Thrones on HBO, or the most hip and upcoming movies are not available for the huge masses just the individuals who are willing to pay extra for a better service. This can also make the TV channel (HBO) feel more special, and Game of Thrones more treasured and exciting that not everyone can watch it. As another example, it is like opening a huge public library. But to enter the library or borrow a book you have to pay a fee. Of course it is not to say that ALL libraries should be put under a lock and key and say that only individuals who are from a higher-class part of town can enter, and who’s salary is above a certain level can borrow any books. That would be discrimination, but to keep the library open for everyone and request a small fee in exchange for a book is not a tragedy ( Howard, 2018).
Public interest issue
In a contrasting perspective, disallowing the creation of information (restricting speech) on the Internet, and regulating it with fees can be seen as an act as against human rights.
As mentioned before, entertainment services and products (like hit TV channels and shows) may be a big business to charge more, however to charge more for the ability of every user to create news and culture and participate in conversations with people across the globe may not be as empowering ( McSherry, 2018).
This can not only be a slap in the face (excuse the vulgarity) for the average Internet user, but important topics are discussed on social media and used the platforms to spread awareness. For example‘The Black Lives Matter’movement was sparked on Twitter that eventually let to a number of mass movements in public that attracted a lot of media attention and awareness to the issue. Such could not have been done without the freedom of speech being exercised on social media. Social media numbers can also be looked at and considered that if seven in ten adult Americans regularly use at least one social media outlet a day (McSherry, 2018) than those numbers may significantly drop if it becomes pricey from one day to another. Not to mention, the Internet has increasingly played a huge part in political expression and organizing. Barack Obama was the first president to use the Internet for his campaign that essentially changed politics ( Miller, 2008).
Many questions remain unanswered towards the end of this research, perhaps future investigators may analyse the point of restriction in NN. It may acceptable to restrict travel if a person cannot afford it, they just will not travel. If an individual wants to fly to exotic location they should have to pay, but to pay to speak? It still remains a question amongst many but as this essay purposed to view net neutrality from the ISP’s point of view, the final gatherings may be found in the conclusion below.
Many reflections have been considered about web consumer trafficking, if it should be equal access or prioritized only for some. The degree, to which this issue affects one or reverse, depends on where the individual is located. It is indisputable that this issue is much more discussed in the U.S. due to legislations taking place jeopardizing net neutrality. The EU law currently enshrines a user’s right to be “free to access and distribute information and content, run applications and use services of their choice”. Specific provisions ensure that national authorities can enforce this new right ( Body or European Regulations for Electronic Community). Meaning it is less of a severe issue if one is living in Europe, however U.S.A being one of the major powers of the world their actions can feedback on the rest of the globe and influence other countries’ actions. The major point of concern is freedom of speech, to conclude. Whilst it is true that entertainment and information costs money in the modern world, including academic and do library memberships. Perhaps the basic level information should not be priced for the masses including minor societies, depending on salary levels, and backgrounds of individuals. Everyone deserves the same chance, the same starting point and if one works them selves up to the possibility to afford nicer luxuries than that should be so. Net neutrality should be applied, as for big monopolies who can afford exclusive deals with ISP’s should also have the right. They also deserve to work up the scale and keep improving, without the use of discrimination of small start-ups. One is not a fan of extremism, in this case a legislation of net neutrality should be passed with certain exceptions, but that is for the ISP’s and companies to decide amongst themselves.