Net Neutrality vote: Our Internet is in Trouble
“Net Neutrality” – you might have heard this term in a passing reference on the internet or some news show. You may not know this yet, but this term directly has an effect on your life. We attempt to give you all the facts and tell you why you should care about net neutrality.
The term, coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, has been one of the major codes of conduct for the internet since its inception. It is the idea that internet service providers are not to discriminate between any content on the internet. The data packets which bring our services should all get equal access speed.
This basic principle has allowed the internet to be an environment which encourages open competition and has encouraged some phenomenal innovation. It has helped even the smallest business models to grow to become international conglomerates, the most prominent examples of this a Google and Facebook.
The fact that general public doesn’t realize is that internet is not just a service anymore, it has now become a necessary utility. It is literally impossible to live without a decent internet connection especially in urban areas where it is used for bill payments, shopping, and admissions in universities; in fact internet has intertwined itself with all facets of our daily life.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) had codified the Net Neutrality principles into law in the 2010 Open Internet order. This order was unfortunately squashed by a federal court recently and can spell doom for the internet as we know it. This ruling can help create a precedent for internet companies to create a fast lanes for the highest bidder. This means wensites who agree to pay more will get a faster access while everyone else will end up getting sub par connectivity.
Imagine an internet where you have to pay to access individual websites. Like a Cable subscription where you have to pay more for bandwidth intensive websites such as YouTube or Vimeo. Most importantly it would kill smaller start-ups who aspire to someday become the next Google.
The free and fair internet till now has given a level playing field for competition for all. So even a college freshman could create the Forbes listed, world’s biggest social medium called Facebook. It was also because of free internet that even iGyaan could reach its readers. But in a non net neutrality world, these guys will face the same obstacles which are faced by the real world business of finding resources.
The opponents of net neutrality make a point that currently websites with higher bandwidth consumption pay the same price to reach the consumers like any other website. But when road traffic started getting congested, the government created wider roads and not special roads for rich people. They should consider the same. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which are opposing net neutrality earn billions in profits each year. Instead of disrupting a unique ecosystem that is still evolving, it is ISP’s prerogative to invest in making the services more innovative and sustainable for them as well as the internet. The companies will make more money by providing quality services to its consumers instead of trying to squeeze the last penny off them.
The great Steve Wozniak makes an excellent analogy when he says that nobody charges you for your per kilometer travel, then why charge for telecom routes. When the roads require maintenance, the government comes to do their part and this must be the responsibility of the ISPs itself.
In India though there are no specific laws safeguarding net neutrality. TRAI in its guidelines mentions non-discrimination, but it is not really enforced. The high cost of spectrum licensing in India and the ever growing burden of massive mobile devices market may lead companies to go for charging a premium on some websites. India’s BRICS companion Brazil recently enacted a brilliant piece of net neutrality legislation and we should ask our lawmakers for the same. All we as consumers can do is be vigilant and raise our voices when we see that happen.
There is going to be a vote at FCC on Thursday the 15th which will decide the future of our internet. This vote can go both ways, the commission can create a precedent where companies can charge websites for priority access. Or the commission can create a legally safe law in which internet will be treated as a telecom service thereby giving FCC complete authority to regulate it. The great news right now is that most of the commissioners are siding with the open internet platform but what happens on Thursday still remain to be seen.
There have been many times when governments try to bring laws which discourage the free exchange of ideas. SOPA, PIPA were some of the laws targeted towards decreasing the efficacy of the internet dialogue. But some good sense prevailed and saved our internet. Net neutrality advocates from around the world are wishing for the same and hope to keep the future of a free and open internet secure.