Net Neutrality Debate: Everything you need to know

In the wake of FCC’s decision to repeal Net Neutrality, this article looks into the pros and cons of net neutrality. It also gives a view of the approach to Net Neutrality by various jurisdictions apart from the US.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality refers to the equal treatment of all data on the internet by both the government and the internet service providers (or ISPs for short). There must be no discrimination of data on the basis of content, platform or source. It is also known as Free or Open Internet, and is seen as an online representation of free speech.

Image result for net neutrality infographic
Digital Information World Infographic

The reason net neutrality is a trending topic currently is because on 14th December, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) led by Chairman Ajit Pai decided to take away regulations that ensure equal access to Internet. This act, predictably, brought about a tidal wave of protests by citizens and activists fighting for their right to free speech through an open internet.

Arguments in favor of Net Neutrality

There are many arguments for retaining the 2015’s Order on Protecting and Promoting Open Internet. Listed below are a couple of popular and main ideas for protesting the repeal of net neutrality.

  1. ISP’s like AT&T; Verizon and Comcast would be able to decide on what data is published and what isn’t. This would have a major impact on what information is shown to the world.
  2. People equate net neutrality with the basic human right to free speech. Thus repealing it will be equivalent to attacking free speech.
  3. Net neutrality has afforded us the opportunity to bring about social movements to an unprecedented number of people. Repealing net neutrality will diminish the effect of such social movements.
  4. Repealing net neutrality is perceived to be a huge market deterrent for start-ups and SMEs.

Arguments in favor of FCC’s Repeal

  1. Taking away the 2015 FCC orders will help in improving competition amongst the ISP’s; which will in turn improve the quality of services provided. Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Netflix will no longer have a big enough control in how we use the internet.
  2. Lesser regulations would allow for increase in investments in rural broadbands and under-served communities.
  3. Net neutrality although keeping data discrimination at a safe distance from the ISP’s may also end up giving the Government the right to monitor broadband connections of cable and telecom companies. Although there are many people, including entrepreneur Joshua Steimie, who believe this, the veracity of the same remains unchecked.
  4. Many of the telecom companies are trying to differentiate between the concept of net neutrality and the FCC’s 2015 reclassification, showing support for the former while rejecting the latter.

TRAI’s take on Net Neutrality

The debate on net neutrality in India is relatively new. It started with Facebook’s Free Basics introduced in 2015. Free Basics would bring affordable access to selected ISP’s to less developed countries. This sparked a row on the right to choose ISP’s and Facebook’s violation of net neutrality.

Since then, through varied protests and media coverage, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) finally sought the recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on 3rd March, 2016. After drafting a consultation paper and giving chances for comments on the same, the TRAI on 28th November, 2017 published its recommendations on Net Neutrality. In the letter to DoT, it also stated that it would be working on issues such as privacy, security and ownership of data in view of the Supreme Court’s decision.

TRAI under the chairmanship of R.K. Sharma supported the basic principles of an open internet and recognized the rules in place for equal treatment of all data. The recommendations stated that:

In spirit, the idea that an Internet service provider should treat all content, sites and platforms equally is already encapsulated in the licensing terms and conditions applicable to service providers in India.

Net Neutrality in EU and UK

The UK and the EU is governed by strong laws protecting net neutrality. UK ISP’s were voluntarily committing towards an open internet. On 15th October, stricter EU wide regulations on net neutrality were adopted. These regulations clearly state that all traffic must be treated equally.

Although, the freedom for internet is safe now in the UK because of the EU Regulations, the question remains as to its fate post complete implementation of Brexit. But the chances of UK retaining the same policy is high. It recently announced that high speed internet is a legal right. On 19th January, UK also restated (along with France) its commitment and support to the principles of net neutrality. 

Current Position in the US

Many tech-giants such as Google and Facebook have talked out about their displeasure over the repeal of net neutrality. Apart from them, attorneys general for 21 states and District of Columbia have sued the FCC’s decision on repeal.

But currently, the debate surrounding net neutrality in the US seems to be more political. The people who are for and against the 2015 FCC Reclassification guidelines, more or less have a similar stance on net neutrality. Despite appearances, majority of Americans of all political parties support the concept of net neutrality. The problem arising now is on the differing opinions of enforcement of net neutrality. While supporters of the FCC 2015 Open Internet Rules want a government directive for equal treatment; those against prefer a light regulation system.

What remains to be seen is whether these are the only two options available to ensure net neutrality, or if some sort of regulations that both Republicans and Democrats can agree upon will be adopted.

What are your thoughts?

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