A term introduced by professor Tim Wu in 2003, net neutrality is the concept that all things on the internet should be treated equally. This means that governments and providers of the service shouldn’t discriminate in terms of cost and accessibility for internet users who want to make the most of online content.
Whether arguing for or against, net neutrality has become a common buzzword in recent years, and the debate doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
But how, exactly, is net neutrality affecting the internet today? And how can we expect it to influence our online experience over the next five years? How over 3 billion internet users will be affected if telcos are allowed to go against neutrality of internet ?
These are questions many want answering.
But first, let’s explore the origins of the term and idea in more detail.
A closer look at net neutrality
Professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School first named the issue of net neutrality in a 2003 paper. As a professor of media law, Wu has become a spokesman surrounding the issue.
In a recent interview with recode.net, Wu stated:
‘The basic concern, which prompted net neutrality rules in the first place, was the idea that carriers would create slow lanes and fast lanes. And, therefore, distort competition on the Internet…’
And this, largely, is the heart of the debate: Should providers be allowed to purposely put users off competing services either by causing the services to run slow, or outright denying access?
There are a variety of groups fighting to keep the internet open in order to prevent this type of behavior. Groups such as Free Press and Media Justice have all expressed a desire to keep the internet as accessible as possible without limitations. And recently, in the United States, a large step was taken in the right direction for these groups – despite their previous efforts for change failing.
What effect is net neutrality currently having on the internet?
At the beginning of 2015, The Federal Communications Commission in America agreed to introduce strong rules surrounding net neutrality.
They are to be enforced on mobile phones, and include the banning of ‘paid prioritization’ as well as blocking content that is lawful.
However, despite America’s positive steps towards the supporting of net neutrality, some other countries have not been as lucky.
India currently has no net neutrality laws in place, and the laws put into place across the EU in May 2014 protecting net neutrality seem to be taking one large step backward in the recent debates.
Now, some are arguing that it should be acceptable for certain ‘specialist’ websites to limit services – which some believe is simply undermining the access we rightly have to an open internet.
Net neutrality also affects the price of the internet, which is once again why it’s so fiercely debated.
The best way to get access to online mediums, we’re talking about services such as Netflix, is to pay for faster broadband overall as everything would stream equally.
In that way, net neutrality makes the internet LESS flexible.
Yet, the alternative option also runs with multiple risks. Charging different prices for customers means that there could become an online class divide in terms of how quickly people can access online content and services.
It’s ideas like this that only serve to make the debate all that more complex and confusing.
Yet one thing is for certain – it’s a positive outlook to take that everyone should be able to access the internet fairly, and net neutrality holds that at the very heart of its beliefs.
What does the future hold?
Progress towards net neutrality, and, sadly, steps backward, are being adopted by countries across the world.
With this in mind, it can be extremely difficult to predict what we can expect to see in the future for this controversial topic.
Yet if net neutrality doesn’t progress outside of America, we can expect to find slower loading speeds on websites who have not paid to get access to the loading ‘fast lane’. There is also a prediction that we’ll see less new services becoming available online.
This is because when they start out, they won’t be able to afford all the rates of payment required in order to match the competition already succeed. In this way – invention will fall to the wayside – as will the chance for new businesses to succeed in the world of the internet.
However, if net neutrality continues to remain in place and is also adopted by countries who do not yet have legislation in place, there will be another set of effects when it comes to browsing the web.
The internet won’t face an income divide – where those with more expenditure each month will be able to access better services.
And the chance for new services to flourish won’t be blocked and limited.
With this in mind, it’s hard to see a downside to the idea of net neutrality, especially for those who are in favour of an equal society.
Net neutrality – the conclusion
As the rules differ across the globe surrounding this topic, it’s hard to know just where net neutrality will venture into the future.
America’s positive step towards the beginning of the year where they supported the use of an open internet was knocked down when it was first explored in 2010 – so who’s to say what the future may hold?
One thing’s for sure.
The internet should be open, accessible and without limits everywhere – we think that’s something all users can probably agree on.
The article is written by Chris Taylor, an active consumer of latest technology and trends on the internet. He is a freelance writers for Computer Hire and regularly pens his opinions on leading online publications.