Hypertextual Essay ARIN2610
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the ideal of equally accessible internet for all.
The concept of Net Neutrality was officially enacted in 2014 by the U.S. Government’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the Title II agreement. With specific concerns with the access internet service providers (ISPs) autonomy, the FCC enforced three rules – no blocking, no throttling (artificially slowing the speed) and no paid prioritisation.
This means that all ISPs will provide the same access to all websites for all users and will not be able to read and discriminate against data packets (Allgrove, B. & Ganley, P., 2006).
These rules allowed the internet to remain equal through government superiority over ISPs. Net Neutrality also kept the internet industry free from further commoditisation and inequality gaps that would occur in the free market system.
The free market system is where the government would have no control over the rules of the internet. It would allow ISPs to favour certain websites over others depending on how much the websites pay them. This would allow big internet companies like Netflix and Google to dominate the internet industry as they would be able to pay the most to the ISPs and in return get the most exposure. ISPs would also have the ability to slow connection to other competing websites or block the connection all together.
Some people believe that the internet would be better off as a free market system. With the Internet functioning as a free market it would have the capacity to become more innovative and grow as an economy.
Those most in favour of the free market system are ISPs and big Web companies, as they have the ability to dominate the market. Big web companies would be able to affordthe costs of prioritisation and even the cost of blocking their competitors on specific ISPs. The ISPs would reap the benefits of not only ISPs paying them money for services such as prioritisation but the consumer paying higher prices for more access and faster internet speeds.
This system however has the potential to become very competitive and expensive. This would create a huge equality divide amongst internet users ruining what some claim is the last equal institution available. The question remains however, is it the governments place to enforce rules of the internet? To answer that we first have to address the history of the internet and its governance.
The History of Net Neutrality
Image: Edwina Biggs
Net Neutrality has been on the agenda for almost 20 years.
When the internet was born in 1990 no one could quite predict how rapidly the internet would grow nor how big it has become. If the internet was a country, it would be the largest with over 4 billion users around the world. When it began the internet was not governed or seen as in need of governance, but like all communities, problems started to arise. This issue coincided with the internets swift growth and the laws and rules of the internet did not develop as quickly. The internet was in need of some clarification on what was or wasn’t acceptable but no institution existed that was capable of passing that judgment, except for the government.
John Perry Barlow was a political activist who was under the opinion that no government should ever have power over the internet. Detailed in his essay published in 1996, A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, Barlow states that the internet must be governed by the people who make it, the everyday user. He claims the cyberspace is a different world and must be governed with that in mind. He hoped that cyberspace would be a new opportunity for a system “more humane and fair than the world [our] governments have made before” (Barlow, J. P. 1996).
Barlow had a nice idea in theory however the internets issues relentlessly occurred and problems regarding consumer access had started long before Net Neutrality was even enacted.
These problems are what sparked the movement in the first place, and not long after the internet started. The movement was first developed in the early 2000s when select ISPs started to abuse their power by banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and individually owned wifi routers or making the consumer upgrade internet packages to use these devices.
It wasn’t until 2005 however that any legal action was taken under the Net Neutrality movement. The FCC took action against a North Carolina ISP for blocking Vonage, a website which allowed people to make telephone calls over the internet. The ISP was fined by the FCC and ordered to stop blocking access to the website.
In 2008 the FCC was successfully sued after ordering an ISP to stop throttling a website. The ISP won due to the FCC having nothing that enforced their orders.
In 2009 Apple blocked its iPhone users from using skype after being requested by an ISP company to do so. After the FCC put the companies under a lot of pressure they eventually agree to stop blocking their customers access to skype.
In 2010 the FCC proposed the ‘Open Internet Order’ which was the first official Net Neutrality regulations. The Open Internet Order called for ISP to be transparent and no longer allowed them to block or throttle any website. Under this order however ISPs were still allowed to provide faster services as a specialised option.
In 2015 the FCC adopted the Title II agreement, the first official Net Neutrality laws, under the Obama government. This agreement stated no ISP had the ability to block throttle or, additionally, prioritise any website. The internet therefore became officially subject to internet governance.
In 2017 under the Trump government the new FCC chairman Ajit Pai successfully repealed the Net Neutrality laws returning the internet to a free market system.
How is Net Neutrality currently effecting Australia?
The more immediate effects of the abolishment of Net Neutrality will be felt by Australian companies who work internationally on American ISPs. These companies will see their internet plan start to offer many more options and bills increase. They also might have to pay prioritisation costs to stay relevant on the web.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The everyday consumer in Australia could also start to see changes with big companies, such as Netflix, signing with particular ISPs in America the cost may raise to use these services in other countries.
Eventually with Australia not having any implemented Net Neutrality agreements we could start to see some copycat behaviour with Australian ISPs after they see the financial success of the American ISPs.
Australia currently does not have any Net Neutrality Laws but we do have strong consumer laws. The consumer is protected against any ISP attempt to negatively effect the consumer with blocking for example. Although actions such as two tired access systems do occur in Australia, which is directly contradicting Net Neutrality laws. Some ISPs provide unlimited access to websites such as ABC iView creating a difference of access amongst Australian consumers.
But is this consumer law specific enough to protect consumer’s internet freedom?
Now that the US has returned to the free market system Australian will see the positive effect it has on the ISPs income which would be a motivator for Australian ISPs to change and reap the same benefits. With current consumer law not specifically targeting the neutrality of the internet, the big ISP companies will put an effort to get around them in the name of profits. A specified Net Neutrality clause would be a guaranteed way to protect the consumer’s rights of internet use. These laws and regulations need to be enacted quickly to beat the trickle down of Americas practices to Australia.
The fight is still on in America to regain their Title II agreement however in the mean time Australia needs to be proactive in protecting their consumer’s internet freedom and ensure piece of mind that their rights are indefinite.
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