This is a question I’ve heard a lot and it can become a fairly heated topic, in my experience anyway. When I’ve had this discussion in the past, people either don’t care at all or don’t fully understand what Net Neutrality is. I’ll do my best to explain my understanding, without ranting on too much.
What is Net Neutrality?
Basically, if you like the internet the way it currently is, great because that’s a Neutral Internet. The principal of Net Neutrality states that ISPs should enable access to all websites equally, without favouring or blocking particular products or websites. Yes, before you all start screaming, I know some disgusting websites shouldn’t be listed. I’m not saying it’s a free for all between Google and some website you can next day your favourite meth. What I’m saying is general websites and applications like Facebook, Twitter, Sky, BBC, Netflix, Amazon, MUBI, etc… should all be treated the same way. Sure, some of them overlap slightly here and there, but it’s an ISPs responsibility to ensure everyone has equal access to all services without blocking or throttling the connection.
This is the core principal of Net Neutrality and it’s how the internet is setup at the moment. I think it’s also where some of the problems lie regarding why some people aren’t overly bothered about it. It works now, nothings changed and it hasn’t affected me yet, so why should I care?
Why should I care if everything’s working normally?
Everything is working fine at the moment because of awesome foundations like Electronic Freedom Frontier and Free the Press, who fight legislation that is aimed at slowly killing the internet that we know and use today. With people like Trump gaining power, Net Neutrality is again under threat from being dismantled.
So you’re probably thinking what’s the big deal, let me explain as briefly as I can what the issue is and paint a picture of what the internet could become, should Net Neutrality not exist.
ISPs now have complete freedom over how they supply internet. They don’t have to worry about giving equal access to everything and they can prioritise certain services and websites. For example, Sky don’t like the idea of their users using Netflix, they want their users to only use Sky; it grows their user base and they get more money from advertisements, right? So, Sky users now experience trouble when trying to access Netflix, saying they can’t connect. Sky explain it’s an additional feature and to use this you now have to fork out an extra £5 per month, on top of your other subscriptions. This is a super simplified example, but you can see the problem. Sky has the power to cut any application they see as direct competition to their business and then have the ability to profit off of it.
Yes, it’s a silly, stupid example of Netflix vs. Sky. But look at the main point, ISPs have the ability to kill competition, which is terrible for an open market. Companies will start to lobby ISPs to promote their services, over others, to give their applications the ‘fast-lane’ leaving all other competitors dead and buried, without a fair chance or level playing field. It reduces the consumers choice. This is what people need to understand. Without competition we wouldn’t have the awesome diversity of companies we have today. People may think I’m being dramatic but let me explain another example.
Lets take Snapchat and Instagram. Quite different apps in what they do, but similar in the sense that they are both social image sharing applications. Facebook lobby to have only their apps and services available on certain ISPs, poor old Snapchat try and setup shop and users are left frustrated with a broken app that doesn’t work due to poor or no internet connection. Users abandon the app and continue using Instagram. So what? Well, without healthy competition we wouldn’t have all the features we have today. Instagram essentially copied Snapchat’s story feature and made it their own, then, in an effort to get users more engaged, Snapchat added funky filters and the ability to create bit emojis. All of this is a result of healthy competition between companies and the consumer benefits from this. When there’s no competition why would a company bother rolling out new features, why would they bother spending money on research and development. The user base is always there and they can’t leave, the consumer has no alternative.
If you like the sound of that, then good for you, you can go live in North Korea. Competition is vital and healthy in an open market, it makes companies work hard to engage with consumers, it forces companies to listen to consumers and take them seriously.
I’m currently developing apps, making music and working on personal projects in my spare time. If I ever wanted to start a business or release my app and one of the big boys deemed it to be competition, I wouldn’t even make it past the start line. It would kill companies before they even got off the ground and create an unfair playing field, where the bigger companies control the market.
Wouldn’t the Government stop this kind of thing?
They should, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that parts of the government are funded and influenced by lobbyists from all over the place. Also, this would benefit them as well — they would have greater control over the population, right? Yeah I know I’m getting dramatic again, but lets just take a look at current affairs.
Fake News, Anyone?
It may seem like I’m branching off topic, but stay with me, it’s all connected. The hot topic right now is fake news, how are we going to stop the spread of it? Lets examine America and Trump. He LOVES fake news, to the point where he’s banned news outlets who have challenged his wild views. That’s terrible, but luckily we can still access their content and services without any trouble. If Net Neutrality was abolished, just imagine what Trump, or any dictator, could do. They’d be able to spread propaganda like never before, manipulate where people get their stories, so what was fake news, is now the only news. The government could, in essence, control exactly how they present themselves and display whatever they wanted to. That’s dangerous. It may sound like overkill, but I’m just exploring the possibilities and what could happen if Net Neutrality didn’t exist.
If this is you right now, then I’ve failed and maybe you’re not too bothered about becoming a mindless person who lives in a world with no choice. That’s fine though, that’s the great thing about the open internet! We’re all dicks with our own opinions who love arguing with other keyboard warriors, it’s what makes this place great. You’re allowed to disagree and agree with anything you want, people have an opinion and they can share it. That’s the most important thing for me, people need to have the freedom and ability to make choices, have opinions and share them. Some of you will probably disagree totally with this, which is cool, but without an open internet I wouldn’t have the platform to share my views, like I can right now. So what I’m saying is, just be weary and make sure to support keeping the internet open, otherwise the world will become a pretty boring place to live.
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