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Net Neutrality

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Did You Know? The term ‘net neutrality’ was coined by Tim Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School, and first used in his paper ‘Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination’ in 2003.

Net neutrality, also referred to as ‘Internet neutrality’ or ‘network neutrality’, is a regulatory concept which eliminates any type of discrimination in transmission and access of content on the Internet. It is based on the principle that websites which provide content and users who access this content are equal, and nobody should be given preferential treatment at the cost of others. The advocates of net neutrality believe that the Internet should remain an open marketplace, for which it is important that the Internet service providers stay neutral.

Net neutrality — based on the open marketplace principle — already exists, and that’s why everybody gets equal access to the Internet. In its current form, however, it is nothing more than a set of professional ethics – with no concrete legislation, and therefore no compulsion of implementation. It may not seem a problem today, but what if someone decides to do away with the ethical part tomorrow. Say, for instance, what if the broadband carriers get to decide what you get to access on the Internet? What if your service provider decides that you will be charged more if you want access to Facebook and YouTube? It would definitely be unfair, and that’s where a proper net neutrality legislation would come to your rescue.

The proponents of net neutrality argue that a strong legislation would ensure that the Internet service providers do not restrict or filter the traffic to suit their vested interests. But then, it is also worth noting that such a legislation will have some issues of its own. There have been instances wherein rules and regulations have not worked the way they were supposed to. We also have quite a few examples of such rules being misused. So how are we to believe that things would be different this time around? Given below are the details of net neutrality pros and cons that have to be taken into consideration before coming up with an opinion of your own…

Arguments in Favor

★ The foremost advantage of net neutrality is that it is helpful in adding competitiveness to the market, with the users getting more options to choose from. The competition between service providers makes each of them come up with their best; which directly benefits the end user who doesn’t just get options to choose from, but also gets quality service. Incidentally, a section of those in support of such regulation also believe that government control of the Internet may help eliminate monopoly, and ensure that the big websites do not dominate the market.

★ As of now there are no restrictions on Internet access unless specifically imposed by the government (and unwarranted government interference is a rare occurrence in democracies.) One can surf websites, send messages, resort to services like blogging and video conferencing or share data without any restriction, net neutrality will ensure that the same continues in the future. In short, a concrete net neutrality legislation will prohibit service providers from blocking content or regulating the speed at which data is transferred.

★ By prohibiting Internet service providers from blocking lawful websites, services, apps, etc., this legislation will help to keep the Internet an open marketplace and promote innovation. It will also make sure that the service providers do not get into shady deals with ‘big players’ and favor them (or block their competitors). It will also ensure that the content providers and users are not taxed for access to quality service. It isn’t surprising that most of the websites support net neutrality; after all they know that it will make them immune to exploitation by service providers.

Arguments Against

★ Those who oppose net neutrality argue that it is an absolutely futile exercise as none of the Internet service providers would go about sabotaging their rivals by blocking their content or degrading network performance. They also cite the example of other networks, which are functioning properly even with the major contributors being in charge of them.

★ Speaking against net neutrality, the Internet service providers justify the norm of charging more for heavy Internet usage, as this money helps them create better infrastructure, and indirectly contributes to the quality of service. They further add that the high fees are only meant for large companies who have a heavy usage, and these companies, they say, can definitely afford the fees.

★ Then again, the legislation has to be defined clearly. Loose ends will be used by people with vested interests for their own benefits. As for the government control of the Internet, those against this type of Internet regulation say that it will depend on the government’s attitude. When in wrong hands, net neutrality can be used as a tool of Internet censorship or invasion of privacy.

Over the last couple of years, the debate on net neutrality has become all the more intense with several countries contemplating the idea of introducing a proper legislation. While countries, like Japan already have Internet access laws in place, in the United States, the debate on net neutrality is far from over. In 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) added the rules of net neutrality to the Federal Register. These rules did call for quite a few restrictions on the service providers, but those in favor of such regulations called them ‘weak’.

As the realms of Internet continue to expand, Internet safety has become a major concern for the users. It’s high time the administration steps in and implements regulatory measures — like net neutrality — to address such concerns, but that should be only after evaluating all the pros and cons.

Content used from work by Abhijit Naik

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