Today is the Net Neutrality Day of Action. It could be a historic turning point in a global battle for a free and open internet. Around the world, thousands of websites will display banners to raise awareness and urge us all to do our part to fight back.
The end of net neutrality would lead to a web where speeds are throttled, sites are blocked, and content costs soar.
But if net neutrality isn’t on your radar, you’re not alone. The right to use the internet freely is a little like our right to privacy. Both rights can be taken for granted until they are taken away.
The loss of net neutrality would be in a fundamental change in the way the internet works for everyone. Our connections would be carved up, slowed down, and sold off.
Time is running short to stop ISPs from charging for the services we use, and your participation will be key.
Without Net Neutrality, the Internet We Know is Gone
Many of us are fortunate to have unrestricted internet access. We don’t live with blocks or censorship. We have relatively fast connection speeds, and we can consume content pretty much anywhere we like.
Net neutrality gives all individuals and businesses an equal platform to trade and communicate. The vlog you upload to your web hosting service loads as quickly as a trailer on Netflix. Movies play without buffering; podcasts play without pausing. It’s a level playing field.
Net neutrality means the smallest blog can load as quickly as the biggest media site. With it gone, money will destroy the open internet as we know it.
But the end of the open internet could be closer than you think.
Some businesses and government agencies believe that neutrality is harming their ability to profit. They would like to be able to pick and choose what we access online, prioritizing certain types of data according to companies that pay most.
So your ISP might charge Amazon to stream its movies faster than Hulu’s. Or it may charge you extra to speed up your connection if you use a site it doesn’t authorize. The end result could be sites that don’t load, and an internet dominated by a few large companies, leaving small content providers in the dust.
And it’s not just content delivery that could be affected. ISPs may block your access to messaging or apps. They could conceivably do a deal with Apple to allow FaceTime, but prevent calling over WhatsApp.
And giving ISPs the power to decide what we do online is the beginning of a slippery slope.
Warnings From History
Content providers are keen to lock consumers into walled gardens to cross-promote content and devices. They want the connection to be part of the deal. If one provider could speed up streaming with an ISP, they could encourage more people to use them, resulting in less choice and increased cost for you.
Consequently, small businesses that can’t pay could find their reach crippled and their audience slashed. And that’s no good for startups or nonprofits.
The end of neutrality would mean less choice and increased cost for you
We have some pretty good examples of boundaries being pushed that demonstrate what this system could look like:
- In 2009, Apple and AT&T joined forces to block Skype calling, while FaceTime was not restricted. The FCC was swift to make enquiries, and the Skype block was removed.
- Facebook runs a Free Basics service that allows a small set of websites to be accessed free on mobile. The net result is free access to Facebook (and its partners), but for competing sites, users have to pay for data. India has now banned Free Basics on net neutrality grounds.
- 3, a mobile network in the UK, has launched a ‘Go Binge’ tariff that offers free data access to certain streaming services. The company hasn’t taken money to favor these services, and it hasn’t violated net neutrality laws. But this could evolve into a hierarchy system: those that pay vs. those that do not.
One argument against net neutrality is that content would load more quickly if we prioritized certain types. That isn’t necessarily true. Bandwidth would be unevenly split, so many sites would be slower in exchange for a slight uplift for the brands that are paying.
There is also another issue here that is even more important. Removing neutrality is a shift in power.
Apathy Could Cost Us Dear
When the Investigatory Powers Act, known as the Snoopers’ Charter, became law in the UK, there was renewed outrage among privacy campaigners. How could hugely invasive surveillance powers pass into law with barely a whimper of protest?
The answer is simple. Apathy creates the ideal environment for the slow creep of surveillance and censorship. And to a degree, net neutrality guards against this.
But when blocking powers are handed out to businesses, it becomes much easier for authorities to censor what we consume because the infrastructure is already in place. If the current government doesn’t block access to protestor websites, the next one might.
Net neutrality helps guard against the creep of mass surveillance by the state.
Barack Obama saw this coming as far back as 2007. And in 2015, the FCC under his administration reclassified the internet as a utility — an essential, just like the water supply. But President Trump is already making progress towards reversing those laws. He appointed Ajit Pai as the new head of the FCC, a man that thinks that net neutrality rules are too strict.
There is a wider issue. If net neutrality disappears under the current so-called Pai Plan then US consumers’ privacy protections will be even further eroded as the sale of your personal browsing history is further deregulated.
This is a great way for surveillance to sneak in via the back door in the guise of a more competitive internet.
Standing Up For the World Wide Web
When Tim Berners Lee invented the Web, it was a pivotal moment for communication, commerce, and freedom of expression. The Web was reliant on an internet infrastructure that did not discriminate against anyone, and that has remained a fundamental principle of the entire internet.
Berners Lee is an outspoken opponent against the violation of net neutrality and the danger of deregulation. In his words, “Will we fight hard for the net we want?”.
Today, July 12th, is the day to start. Head over to BattlefortheNet and join the protest to save our internet from corporate greed.