Net neutrality, by definition, is the unbiased access to the internet. This means that internet providers are not supposed to censor the service they provide for their own profit. Here’s an explanation of what it is, why it is important and how it affects your internet usage on a daily basis.
Why is net neutrality so important?
The internet is based on the principle, rightly or wrongly, that the internet entertains a certain level of democracy and does not discriminate against users. If you pay for your internet and download limits, you have the right to use it without the intervention of your internet provider or other interested parties.
However, this does not mean that internet providers cannot manage internet speeds. If one person allocates the majority of their internet usage to reading the news, they will have different speed requirements than someone who is downloading music and streaming movies. But this is based on a service, not money-making, initiative.
Because net neutrality dictates that a provider cannot give priority to certain products for profit – for example, YouTube cannot pay BT to prioritise traffic to YouTube over traffic to iPlayer – users are concerned that compromising this code would lead to manipulation of the fairness of the internet.
Why is it controversial?
Many are concerned that to allow internet providers to profit from staggered internet access would be to allow big business to control our access to information and how we gain access to it.
A not entirely dissimilar argument could be found in the controversy involving product placement in television programming – if a viewer is unaware of product placement, and television becomes less about content and more about profiteering from the highest bidder, the substance and authority of the program is in danger of being compromised.
Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC, which owns internet staples such as Ask.com and YouTube contender Vimeo, has called on the US government to make net neutrality law, telling the Telegraph “We need an unambiguous rule – a law – that nobody will step between the publisher and the consumer, full stop.”
There is also the distinct possibility that the compromise of net neutrality will motivate so-called ‘dirty tricks’ – one provider might increase the speeds to their video services, producing a perfectly streamed play, whilst slowing down the speed to a competitor’s video services, thus demoting its quality.
Why would anyone not want net neutrality?
There is an argument that the democratic nature of the internet is not entirely real – it is in fact a perceived stance that is already being ebbed away.
Some might argue that the fact that the internet is provided by businesses and is not a public service means it is always subject to entrepreneurial business deals.
Others argue that other media entities such as television and radio have been distributed into different levels of prioritisation according to the service you use and a similar future is inevitable for the internet.
Just yesterday in the US, the Federal Communications Commission regulations, which prohibited traffic interference, was repealed – an example of government challenging the self-imposed rules that were previously taken for granted in the ever dynamic medium of the internet that has, up to now, been allowed to carve out its own path.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, BT, Virgin Media have all pledged to release details of how they manipulate their internet speeds – a step some would see as a welcome sign of increased transparency, and others will see as a cynical move to give an air of comradery to neutrality advocates without changing the policies in question.