It might seem to be a strictly American issue, but net neutrality has some pretty big implications for the whole of the internet. Recently, President Obama has come out in favour of keeping the internet open and free for all. And while net neutrality doesn’t exactly prevent that, there are concerns from some sections of society that telecoms companies will seek to end that.
The idea of a free and open internet seems like a pretty standard concept at present. However, telecoms industries in the US wish to open it up to market forces, believing that if people wish to pay for higher speeds and better connections, they should be able to. The President disagrees, and is leaning on the independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet traffic from information services, which can’t be regulated by the FCC, to communication services, which can be.
But why does he disagree? It might seem, at first glance, that it’s yet another ideological battle; a political carnival in which one side want companies in charge, and the other want the state to control it. As usual with politics, there’s more to it than that. In fact, generally speaking, the vast majority of people on all sides of the political spectrum wish for the internet to remain largely unregulated – by either corporations or the government.
The main issue with net neutrality is the fear that telecom giants will develop a so-called ‘fast lane’ for services. That might not seem a bad thing, unless users or services, say Netflix, or are unwilling to pay more for better service. And then what? ‘Cybertarians’ fighting in favour of net neutrality are arguing that that’s when telecom companies will throttle the speeds. They, much like the President, believe that data should be treated equally.
The four key requests that Obama is asking for are:
* No blocking of sites, regardless of content, by ISPs if they’re legal.
* No throttling, or slowing down, based on ISP preferences or type of service.
* An increase of transparency between users and ISPs.
* No prioritisation simply because services or users refuse to pay a fee.
It remains to be seen, at this early stage, how the net neutrality argument will play out, with opposition politicians dubbing it the ‘Obamacare of the internet’. The FCC themselves have kicked the issue into the long grass, delaying a vote on how the internet is governed until 2015. But it’s certainly gearing up to be one to watch.
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