NET NEUTRALITY EXPLAINED
Picture this, you’re browsing YouTube and watching the latest vlogs of Casey Neistat in Full High-Definition. Suddenly the video stops and there’s a prompt in front of the video. “Monthly number of YouTube videos you can watch has exceeded, to watch more buy the Unlimited Video Pack for extra Rs.500 and for Unlimited High-Definition videos for Rs.800”
Hopefully you’ll feel incensed as this can be the future of the internet without Net Neutrality. Recently, Net Neutrality has been repealed by the F.C.C (The Federal Communications Commission) in the United States which left millions of people angry and millions more confused and apathetic to the issue. In large part, this is an internal battle within the United States over consumer choice and how the Internet will operate.
Nonetheless, it also could have a significant impact beyond American borders; especially for those who routinely interact with U.S.-based Internet services in their daily or professional lives. Therefore, since most of the sites we use are over there, it makes sense to care about Net-Neutrality.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
When you go online, you have certain expectations. You expect to be connected to whatever website you want. You expect that your cable or phone company isn’t messing with the data and is connecting you to all websites, applications, and content you choose. You expect to be in control of your internet experience.
This is where Net Neutrality comes in.
Net Neutrality is the internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn’t interfere with the content you view or post online.
To make things simpler, lets look at Pizza delivery as an illustration to describe Net Neutrality. Imagine you are in a town with two pizza places — RoadHut and PizzaHouse — and one phone company, AnCell. In a normally functioning free market, if you want to order pizza you are likely to call whichever pizza place that tastes best to you or has the best bang for your buck. But let’s say AnCell and RoadHut’s cut a special deal where any calls to RoadHut’s are favored over the calls going to other pizza places. So anyone calling PizzaHouse has to wait behind everyone else calling RoadHut. For most people even if you might think PizzaHouse tastes better, you know you will get your pizza faster if you choose RoadHut.
Worse, let’s say AnCell acquired RoadHut and profits directly from RoadHuts profits. Now AnCell has even more reason to block or throttle calls going to PizzaHouse. We doubt any new pizza shops are going to set up shop near you if they know they are facing this kind of unfair treatment from the established big guys. So, here we have fewer choices and higher prices for everyone involved. The strong net neutrality rules currently on the books prevent big providers from favoring one pizza chain — or in the case of internet, content creator — over another. It means all traffic and content travels over your connection at an equal pace. This means more entrants to the market, more reasons for people to continue making their services better, and happier customers.
You might not physically need the internet to survive, but for most of us, it’s become an absolute necessity. We rely on the internet for work, to communicate with family and friends, and to organize our lives. Putting such an important tool entirely in the hands of companies that care about profits above all else is a dangerous idea.
You wouldn’t let the free market decide the price of tap water or electricity without any regulation. So why should we let it decide to fate of the internet?
A key aspect of Net Neutrality laws was that they stopped internet providers from blocking websites they disagree with. Now that these laws are removed it would open up the internet to all kinds of censorship. That might mean stifling innovation, like when AT&T tried to block access to Skype, making it impossible for new companies to compete in the future. It could also mean internet providers censoring articles and websites that are critical of them, or that simply compete with their own media properties.
One worst-case scenario that we haven’t seen in Nepal yet, but which is worth considering, is that ISPs could potentially play a role in limiting or marginalizing certain communities during times of urgency — for instance, an ISP might choose to block a mobilizing hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter at the start of an organic protest. This might seem like a dire prediction, but there’s precedent for it.
In 2011, the Egyptian government heavily censored certain websites during the Arab Spring. And in Turkey, under the administration of President Erdogan, the country had become notorious for censoring websites and blocking hashtags, at one point banning Twitter altogether.
These are all the reasons why one must be aware of Net Neutrality and one must recognize the signs of companies trying to take advantage of the lack of Net Neutrality laws here in Nepal as it is a slippery slope that will lead to a dystopian internet future.
Compiled By: Anmol Shrestha