Net Neutrality in 2021: Pros, Cons and Expectations
What we do on the internet, and how much we do it should be our business. Internet Service Providers should not influence the nature or the quantity of content that users can access online. While the mentioned doctrine is of an egalitarian nature, privacy advocates are facing more challenges in implementing net neutrality than meet the media eyes. Read on to explore the current status of net neutrality, its pros, cons and the role you can play to reestablish its importance in the digital age.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is a principle that governs equal access to online content. It requires ISPs to not discriminate against specific content: streaming platforms, blogs, and applications regardless of its source or producer. According to the principle, an internet company, or a broadband carrier should not influence or control what individuals view over the internet.
What does Net Neutrality mean for Internet Service Providers?
Internet Service Providers do not only earn from selling bandwidth packages to their customers. Some internet service providers sell users’ data to the third parties for a one-time revenue or commission. Others receive compensation to promote giant platforms and slow down speeds for their rival websites. The marketing efforts of content producers thus affect the internet users’ access to their desired content. Net Neutrality rules prevent ISPs from:
- Redirecting users to specific websites.
- Throttling internet speed and bandwidth on streaming platforms.
- Blocking traffic from certain websites.
- Discriminating against startup content producers who don’t pay for advertisements.
- Charging content producers for prioritizing traffic to their services.
History of Net Neutrality
This campaign began with an academic paper when Tim Wu used the term ‘Network Neutrality’ for the first time in 2003. In his paper, he presented some ways internet service providers were theoretically killing the competition in the content economy. He had also speculated some practical issues, which nobody (except FCC), predicted were on their way. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a regulating body, had already started making efforts to preserve net neutrality when ISPs banned the use of Virtual Private Networks in 2000. In 2003, the regulator released the 4 principles of online freedom. In 2005, Vonage complained about the blockage of its VoIP services. FCC responded proactively and the Internet Service Provider named Madison River was fined for blocking VoIP calls.
In 2008, however, Comcast appealed to the court and received a decision in favor of ISPs. As a result of the proceedings, ISPs were allowed to regulate (and control) the internet traffic on the grounds that they should have the authority to sell the services they wanted to offer and set the prices of each service that fell under their domain. The decision also limited the power of the FCC to control the activities of Internet Service Providers. Between years 2009 and 2013, similar cases were presented, including the popular AT&T lawsuit, a broadband carrier found to limit bandwidth and blocking facetime application when Apple allowed the app for mobile data users as well. In 2014, a mob protested and claimed that they were entitled to net neutrality.
2015 and onwards…
In 2015, FCC released a law which prevented ISPs from regulating, blocking and controlling the traffic on selected platforms. FCC, however, released another law in 2017 when it allowed ISPs to throttle bandwidth and speed whenever it was necessary. Since then, FCC has been collaborating with state officials over the implementation of net neutrality laws, altering them for symbiotic benefits of internet users and ISPs. The aim is to protect the privacy of internet users while also preserving the competitiveness of internet services.
Pros of Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality is healthy for the overall internet ecosystem because of these reasons:
Justice in the Online World
Net neutrality is a measure that stops corporate giants from using fast lanes and making more money. Whether it’s a high school student’s blog about planting trees or a corporate’s ebook about its social responsibility, net neutrality demands that none should get a special treatment based on the paycheck the ISP had received to control internet traffic.
Freedom of Expression
Individuals, groups and websites that stand up for a cause need the internet to voice their opinions, gather votes, collect donations and spread the purpose behind their campaign. It can be a simple effort to prevent deforestation or a full-fledged movement to stop mass killings in some province of Afghanistan. Net neutrality entails that internet users should have access to all types of content available online, as long as it’s legal, whether it’s recent news, announcements, arguments, or opinions originating from diverse geographical and ethnic backgrounds.
Innovation and Healthy Competition
The Internet fuels many businesses, and companies no more need physical headquarters to function profitably. While bigger companies can have a competitive advantage over startups and small-scale entrepreneurs because of intellectual and economic resources, net neutrality suggests that the internet, as a medium to reach a wider audience should equitably serve all sizes of enterprises, instead of helping corporate giants strengthen barriers to entry. This will promote:
- the inception of new ideas,
- introduction of new products, services and information commodities,
- transformation of startup plans into reality.
Zero Payment for Equal Opportunities and Access
Under Net Neutrality mechanisms, content producers, especially the ones in their inception stage, should not be required to pay extra money to ISPs, only to deliver extra bandwidth on their websites and applications. Similarly, internet users should not be required to pay additional fees for accessing specific streaming websites, online gaming platforms, banking gateways and informative media. This effort will eventually rule out the presence of fast lanes and when this initiative will be taken on a legislative level, no big or small content producers will be allowed to manipulate the rules only to pass their operational costs to end-users.
Despite strict actions of governments, ISPs can still practice net inequality and hinder the restoration of net neutrality because of their revenue model and subscription structures. They charge different prices and offer tier-level internet packages, which indeed tends to be a fair business decision. It also means they can throttle speed and prioritize traffic to certain websites while justifying the action using their revenue model. Plus, you may occasionally notice the slowness while loading certain pages and upon inquiring, you will find your ISP blaming it on weather conditions, traffic, government regulations and temporary connection interruptions. In reality, these are lame excuses utilized only to mask their speed throttling efforts.
Cons of Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality despite being legal and (almost) ethical also has its downsides that do question its practicality.
Net neutrality means equal access to all websites: be it a streaming platform, or a banking website. But what about websites that provide information about emergency healthcare and rescue services? Ethics and logic suggest that these websites, undeniably, should be placed on higher priority levels because of the nature of their content. But with net neutrality rules in place, ISPs can not regulate the traffic, even when they should.
Misuse of Freedom of Expression
While freedom of expression is paramount to a citizens’ welfare, it should not be used as a tool to promote abusive content produced to defame a particular group, insult the government officials and their efforts, attack an emerging idea, suppress the growth of rival companies. With strict net neutrality rules, all individuals and groups that can afford to produce ethically questionable content, get a weapon to hurt the sentiments of diverse communities, which after all is not as legit and ethical as net neutrality.
Promotion of Cyberbullying
Net neutrality can prevent ISPs from influencing access to global content. The mechanism can, however, not control the purpose and the campaigns behind the objectionable content available online. If individuals can afford and produce content, they can shape it the way they want and perform targeted cyberbullying without restrictions. ISPs, while exercising their right to regulate online traffic, can control the access to such content and ban such websites as and when required, which becomes near to impossible when rigid net neutrality rules are implemented.
Equal Opportunities vs. Competitive Pricing
Like every other commodity, water, electricity and groceries, access to information and online content should also be regulated based on the pricing principles: pay more to buy more, pay more to buy better! This means that 2 users, out of which 1 is only reading blogs and the other is playing online games, are paying the same fees, but not availing the same benefits. Isn’t it unfair? Net Neutrality, while allowing equal access to information, can kill competition and demotivate Internet Service Providers to continue the business. The principles can largely disrupt their revenue models and they may start charging more for fewer services, ultimately burdening the end-users.
Current Status and Expected Developments
Net Neutrality in President Trump’s Era
FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, who was President Trump’ choice for FCC, wanted to overturn how the net neutrality laws would impact internet users and broadband companies. He seemingly wanted to strike a balance between privacy and competitiveness in the internet industry and repeatedly mentioned his mission to eliminate the ‘digital divide’. These two terms are the major concerns that govern the implementation of Open and Fair Internet experience. According to his statements, he wanted to let broadband companies keep working on utility-model, where they will be required to disclose the methods of data handling and providing different qualities of internet services. No rigid net neutrality laws have been created, and almost none is in place as yet. Majority of states want to combat net inequality and implement principles that were established in the era of President Barack Obama. Ajit Pai has already announced the end of his tenure, confirming that he would leave the position on January 20th, 2021.
Net Neutrality in President Joe Biden’s Era: A Hypothesis
Though Biden has not yet released the nominations for FCC’s next chairperson, rumors strongly suggest the name of Mignon Clyburn. Odds are significantly in her favor. She had already served FCC for 11 years and also belongs to a diverse ethnic background. Further, she is a part of Biden’s Telecom Transition Team. Appointed by Obama in 2009, Clyburn dedicated supreme efforts to establish net neutrality laws and is still labeled as ‘Net Neutrality Defender’ and ‘Net Neutrality Advocate’, leading the public to set higher expectations from her. She has explicitly mentioned that broadband companies should not interfere (and even monitor) the public communication because it goes against public protection. However, the government does attempt to regulate communication channels, with the intention to prevent cybercrime and to spot vulnerabilities. The net equality campaign will undoubtedly face strong arguments and challenges before the public can witness major developments because governments will have to limit their digital surveillance orders in order to transparently implement net neutrality.
How can I contribute to Net Neutrality?
To support net neutrality and reclaim your online freedom, you can:
- Spread the message by sharing this article with your friends, family members, relatives and colleagues on social media.
- Write to congress expressing your concerns about net inequality and the need for net neutrality.
- Monitor and report if your ISP throttles bandwidth on specific websites, including BitTorrent, Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, Yahoo and Twitter.
- Study your ISP’s business model and policies about data handling. Also, inquire if it forwards your online activity to government or advertisement agencies.
- Prevent your ISP from monitoring you. Use a secure browser which encrypts your search queries.
- Install an efficient ad-blocker and antivirus program to combat your ISP’s efforts to redirect you to competing websites.
- Use a VPN to protect your online behaviour from tracking.
iProVPN advocates Net Neutrality!
Yes, we are a group of privacy advocates who are making supreme efforts to reestablish the need for net neutrality. Here is what we are doing:
- We have dedicated our blogs section to educate our audience about the trending cybersecurity mechanisms, issues, and relevant services.
- Our digital experts keep releasing security tips, tutorials, and guides that cover concepts associated with online freedom, and user privacy.
- We have created iProVPN which has a primary function to protect users’ privacy. The service masks your IP Address and hides overall online behaviour from ISPs. It gives access to global streaming and gaming content and delivers unlimited bandwidth.
Keeping the pros and cons of net neutrality in view, it is advisable to restore internet freedom orders, which by nature should be equitable, rather than equal. It is not only a political lexicon which would disappear like other political ideas that come easy and go easy. A debate which was, though initially promoted by certain tech students and privacy enthusiasts, is now a question to online freedom and public security.
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