Consumers in the UK should stay vigilantby Hannah Jane Parkinson / January 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Net neutrality” isn’t exactly a phrase to set the pulse racing, and perhaps that’s partly why so few Americans have paid attention to its threatened status. Now, it might be too late.
Some people assume net neutrality is difficult to understand—which to be fair much of tech is—but it’s a relatively simple concept. Essentially, it is the practice of equality of the internet. It means internet services providers (ISPs) must treat all data on the internet, and consumers, the same way. That is, ISPs (such as Comcast and Verizon in the United States and Virgin and BT in the UK) cannot serve certain content at a faster speed than other content; they cannot charge more for certain content; they cannot preference content; they cannot charge users more for using certain equipment or applications. They cannot, in other words, use technical tricks to push us towards or away from certain sites, for commercial reasons or any other whim.
Most people agree that net neutrality is an important democratic principle. But not Donald Trump, whose administration has just repealed the US law that protects net neutrality, the Open Internet Order, which enshrines a principle of American governance for the web. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the regulation, splitting 3-2 on party lines, with Republicans voting to end it.
A threat to the way we live
The destruction of net neutrality threatens the open internet and, as the internet is such a huge part of our lives, it also threatens the way we live now. It could affect how we stream films, how we use social media, how we email. Imagine living in a never-ending buffering hell because your ISP found reason to prod you towards different sites or services.
If ISPs can control how fast or slow content reaches us, then big companies such as Amazon and Netflix might end up paying them to get into the fast lane. This concept, known as “paid prioritisation,” will hurt start-ups and small companies that can’t foot that bill. In total, 170 US content providers protested against the repeal, including Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google and even PornHub. These tech behemoths are of course the ones that could afford to pay for priority speeds, and yet they are still against it because currently they don’t have to pay at all; some, such as Netflix, also…