If you have been paying attention to the news about the business and the internet world, then you may know about net neutrality. This subject has been under hot debate around the world in the last few years, and for a good cause. Here we will take a look into some of the facts related to net neutrality and the debate surrounding it.
Net neutrality refers to the set of legislation that would allow internet service providers (ISP) to selectively throttle, depending on the content, internet speeds. This legislation is heavily supported by the ISPs across the world but is highly opposed by the internet community as a whole. The internet and the companies based around it fears that the lack of net neutrality rules will lead to a system that favors the corporate giants and leave out the smaller start-ups.
Laws to support or abolish net neutrality have been introduced in governments around the world. They are often met with a mixed response, with the ISPs in favor of it, and the internet heavily against it. First, we will look at the debate surrounding the issue. Then we will move on to the factors that support and oppose net neutrality. Finally, we will, in brief, discuss the various forms of legislation regarding net neutrality across the world.
- Net neutrality in the USA existed before 2005. It was abolished in 2005 and reestablished in 2015.
- Yahoo and Google have a fast lane already in place despite net neutrality provisions, which allows their users to use a higher bandwidth.
- The FCC Chairman once quoted Emperor Palpatine!
- USA is the only country that passed laws weakening net neutrality.
Facts about support and debate.
The debate around net neutrality has been raging since around 2013. This debate is fueled by ISP’s lobbying the government to allow for them to selectively throttle speeds depending on content. Before getting into the actual reasons, lets first look at some of the facts about the debate. This debate resulted in the FCC opening their forums to comments for public comments.
1. Bots submitted a large number of comments supporting the repeal of Net Neutrality: The comments that the FCC got were both in support and against net neutrality. However, journalists realized that a lot of these comments were following exactly the same pattern and looked like they were artificial. Upon and investigation, it was revealed that as many as 400,000 comments might have been faked. A lot of these bots originated with a Russian email address. If These comments were to be ignored, the ratio of positive comments to negative comments is vast. There were as many as 1.31 million positive comments, compare to 23,000 negative comments.
(Source: The Verge)
2. A percentage of anti-net neutrality comments were made under the identities of dead people: Fake comments weren’t just posted via bots. There were even comments posted under the assumed identities of deceased people. There weren’t as many as bot comments, but there was still a significant number. It was estimated that around 2.6% of the total comments were made by dead people. There we even some living individuals whose identities were appropriated and misused to post anti-net neutrality.
3. 99% of organic comments were in support of Net Neutrality: Once the various fraudulent comments were ignored, the organic comments we found to be extremely in favor of net neutrality. Around 99% of all these organic comments were heavily in support of net neutrality. Despite this overwhelmingly positive view of net neutrality, the FCC refused to acknowledge them, since there were many negative comments as well. Attempts to prove that the fraudulent nature of the comments fell on deaf ears for a long amount of time.
4. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai refused to remove comments made under fake identities: As just discussed, a large number of comments regarding anti-net neutrality thoughts were faked. The people whose identities were appropriated were understandably uncomfortable with the idea of someone masquerading as them. When their concerns were brought to the FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, they were summarily ignored. After some amount of time, Ajit Pai directly told the applicants that those comments would not be removed. This was construed as Ajit Pai not wanting to remove comments in support of repealing the laws, and organic comments supporting the laws were in a large majority.
5. YouTube has nearly 5.4 million videos on net neutrality, an overwhelming majority of which are positive: YouTube is one of the most visited websites in the world. This made it the primary place to rally support by net neutrality. A lot of content creators created videos hailing net neutrality laws and calling their viewers to action for the comments. Upon searching net neutrality on YouTube, one can find nearly 5.4 million results. Nearly 87% of them are speculated to be positive and in support of net neutrality.
6. Net neutrality protests across the world attracted millions of people: Since net neutrality is a situation that involves almost every single internet user in the world, it is no surprise that when it came time to protest the removal of net neutrality attracted millions of protestors. These protests raged all around the world. Some of these protests were simple marches with amazingly creative placards involving memes and caricatures of the various figures involved in the debate. Other protests, like in India, involved large scale co-operative measures like the launch of several websites, making the process of sending emails to the TRAI as simple as pressing a couple of buttons. The biggest supporter of these protests turned out to be the comedian John Oliver, who created the website ‘gofccyourself.com.’ This website contains all the information a user might need to understand the debate about net neutrality, and also allowed users to write complaints to the FCC.
Why is net neutrality a good thing?
Now that we understand the background behind the debate let’s start understanding the points put forward by both sides. First, we will start with the points in support of net neutrality. These points revolve mainly around net neutrality supporting small businesses and helping a healthy community grow around the internet.
7. Net neutrality helps small businesses in expand, and its loss is a huge detriment for them: Under net neutrality rules, every single packet of data is treated the same. Hence, even small businesses, who have only a few hundred online customers, are treated the same was by ISPs. This has enabled every single online service that users relish to be created. Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc., were all created due to the internet being a neutral place for everyone. Losing net neutrality will force small businesses to spend money that could have spent on expanding on trying to obtain a place in the ‘fast lane.’
(Source: USA Today)
8. Net neutrality supports freedom of speech: One of the most important facets of a successful democracy is Freedom of Speech and Expression awarded to every individual in the system. This right is what is in question if net neutrality comes under threat. If corporations are allowed to decide what is relevant or not and are allowed to control the content that their users are allowed to access, then that would be a gross violation of this basic right. Corporations can, and have in the past, can direct traffic away from the services that compete with them, by throttling the speeds to various websites. This essentially makes corporations the gatekeepers of all content on the internet. A scenario where a corporation closes off access to websites that disagree with their policies, be it religious, political, or even economical, is possible without the protection of net neutrality.
Why is it not being supported by everyone?
The main group that opposes net neutrality comprise mainly of ISPs and some specific corporations that would clearly benefit from a closed internet. These corporations include some very well-known companies like Facebook and, for a short while, Amazon. Here we will take a look into the arguments that these companies put forward and see why a lot of them don’t hold up to scrutiny.
9. Net neutrality will reduce investments, which is false: ISPs are responsible for creating an infrastructure that delivers internet access to people. This investment is very important for communities and consumers. Ajit Pai has latched onto this facet of the service the ISPs provide to claim that increasing restrictions on them could be heavily detrimental to society. However, this claim as proven false by the ISPs themselves, as after the passing of 2015 net neutrality laws, there was no discernible reduction in investments into infrastructure. Ajit Pai dismissed this fact as he claims that the difference will only be apparent over the span of a few years.
(Source: Free Press)
10. Ajit Pai claims smaller ISPs can find it difficult to compete because of strict regulations: One of the biggest claims made Ajit Pai in support of his stand against net neutrality laws was that creating restriction would lead to smaller ISPs losing revenue. This would be because, due to restrictions, they would have to focus on processing their data more and screen the data carefully to prevent any throttling. However, in a poll conducted by Free Press, it was found that almost no small ISP felt any change in their revenue margins after the passing of the net neutrality laws in 2015.
(Source: The Verge)
11. AT&T blocked Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype for low tiered data plans, but rolled the ban back: Before the creation of the net neutrality laws, companies have been known to make their networks selective. No situation outlined this fact better than AT&T banning Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype. These services had been using AT&Ts Voice Over Internet Protocol to place video calls over the data network. This caused AT&T’s mobile network to take significant financial damage, as their data charges were much lower than their voice network. The response to their banning of these apps was not surprising. Customers started leaving their service en-masse, and their stocks took a sharp nosedive. They repealed the ban very quickly.
12. Corporations are uniquely equipped to block objectionable content: A major reason for support to kill net neutrality from the general public came in the form of support for censoring objectionable content. The best example for this comes from India, where-in the government banned nearly 800 porn sites. This ban was enforced with the help of the three major ISPs in the country. According to a government directive, they were able to prevent any Indian traffic from being routed to any porn website. This took them only about a day to enforce, proving the fact that the killing of net neutrality can make it so that corporations will be able to censor content with ease.
From around the world.
Net neutrality has been handled differently in different parts of the world. The debate and facts covered in this article have focused on the different reasons for net neutrality’s support or opposition. Here we look at the variety of countries that have enforced some or the other form of net neutrality. We will also see some places that haven’t enforced these rules for some or other reasons.
13. Twelve countries have enforced net neutrality laws: Many countries around the world have already enforced net neutrality laws. As of 2019, twelve countries around the world have created laws that in some way shape or form stop an ISP from throttling speeds for any reason. Most of these laws have appeared fairly recently.
(Source: Smithsonian )
14. India has the strongest net neutrality laws in the year 2016: India saw a huge debate around net neutrality erupt across the country in 2015. It was sparked by a deal made between Airtel and Facebook. Under this deal, using Facebook over Airtel’s network would consume zero data. This caused a huge uproar in the country, as they rightly argued that this would cause Facebook usage to rise hard, removing the factor of choice for a lot of consumers. After this Airtel and Facebook sued the Indian government to be allowed to continue their deal. The case launched the Indian internet community into a laborious debate about net neutrality. The overwhelming support that Indians showed for net neutrality resulted in the strongest net neutrality laws in the world. Under these laws, if any company tries to throttle internet speeds depending on content in any way shape or form, they can have their license revoked for one financial year. The only exception from this law are critical IoT devices or surgery suites.
15. Brazil enacted its net neutrality laws in 2014, and further strengthened them in 2016: Brazil enacted a law for preserving free speech in the country. This law also governed internet usage among its populace and hence prevented any censorship by ISPs. This was met was a lot of pushback and resistance from ISPs. This created a large conversation in the country revolving around net neutrality in the country. The government came dangerously close to creating a loophole in the law that would allow ISPs to create restrictions based around content. However, the public outcry for free speech won in the end, and in 2016 net neutrality was passed, with a specific set of laws exclusively governing it.
16. Canada has had a net neutrality law since 2008: The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission has always claimed to be fully in support of net neutrality. They passed the barebones of their net neutrality law as far back as 1993 when they made it so that telecommunication companies could not selectively block any website to protect freedom of expression if they want to renew their license. This was extended in 2008 to specifically include the ISPs and net neutrality in general.
17. Japan implemented its net neutrality laws as an amendment to its anti-monopoly laws: Anti-monopoly laws exist in almost every country. Japan is a country whose economy relies heavily on technological innovations and startups. To support this, Japan has passed some very stringent anti-monopoly laws. These laws also govern ISPs and other telecommunication companies. Under these laws, any ISP that tries to selectively speed up the traffic to a particular product would be going against these laws by aiding in the creation of a monopoly.
18. Australia has no specific net neutrality laws, but they don’t need them: Australia is one of the most developed nations on the planet, yet they don’t have any significant net neutrality laws. However, what they do have are 63 major ISPs in their country. Compared to most other countries, who only have around three or four, this is a huge number. These companies keep each other regulated for the most part. If a consumer feels that their ISP is being unfair with their data, they can switch to another carrier very easily. Market competition keeps every ISP on their toes. This is in stark comparison to, for example, India, where there are only four major ISPs.
(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)