Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers should treat all data on the internet equally and not discriminate between different kinds of online content or applications. It guarantees a level playing field so that (i) Internet users do not have to pay ISPs more for wider access to online content, and (ii) content providers do not have to pay more to ensure users can access their websites or apps.
Net neutrality has allowed us the freedom to express ourselves and to innovate online without having to seek the permission of a remote telecom executive.
Unfortunately, nowadays, most of the world’s biggest ISPs are wanting to charge website operators for quality access to their websites and app providers for the speedy running of apps. Those failing to pay up will experience discrimination – their sites will load more slowly and apps won’t run as well. Users could find, with no legal recourse, that ISPs have blocked or slowed competitors’ websites. These ISPs want a “tiered” internet – if you pay enough, your site and service will run fast. If not, you’ll be in the slow lane.
Bar a few countries (including Chile and Holland), despite having guidelines, there is no legislation preserving net neutrality. There has been extensive debate about whether such laws should exist. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web, has spoken out in favour of net neutrality. He says, “The moment you let net neutrality go, you lose the Web as it is – the fact that any innovator can dream up an idea and set up a website at some random place and let it just take off from word of mouth.
In the USA, there is ongoing legal and political wrangling regarding net neutrality. The dominant network operators have sought to curb it while public interest advocates have fought to preserve it. Verizon (an ISP giant) is attempting to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s current net neutrality regulations. In 2011, the FCC prohibited ISPs from blocking content and prioritising some traffic over others. Shortly after, Verizon sued the FCC saying it does not have regulatory authority to impose net neutrality rules. A verdict is due soon.
We could be headed towards a pay-per-view Internet where websites have fees and where startups and entrepreneurs will be priced out of the market by those big corporations that pay for the top spot on the Web. The free-flowing internet as we know it could very well become history.
Wi-Manx serves thousands of happy broadband customers (both residential and business) and would staunchly resist any steps to inhibit the freedom of the internet.