The U.S fight over Net Neutrality has an Impact on the Whole World

The U.S fight over Net Neutrality has an Impact on the Whole World

by Yash Saboo December 23 2017, 8:47 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 38 secs

The US Federal Communications Commission or FCC voted on 14 December to repeal landmark 2015 rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet, sending chilling waves across cyberspace that are likely to wash up on Indian shores too. Championed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the scrapping of "net neutrality" marked a victory for internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications and hands them power over what content consumers can access. Consumer advocates and trade groups representing content providers plan to legally challenge the move.

For those who don't have a clue about what net neutrality is: When you go online you have certain expectations. You expect to be connected to whatever website you want. You expect that your cable or phone company isn’t messing with the data and is connecting you to all websites, applications, and content you choose. You expect to be in control of your internet experience.

When you use the internet you expect Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked.

In 2015, millions of activists pressured the Federal Communications Commission to adopt historic Net Neutrality rules that keep the internet free and open — allowing people to share and access information of their choosing without interference.

Without the Net Neutrality rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to call all the shots and decide which websites, content, and applications succeed.

These companies can now slow down their competitors’ content or block political opinions they disagree with. They can charge extra fees to the few content companies that can afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a lower tier of service.

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"This will be another instance of the U.S. ceding leadership in a global area," said Nick Frisch, a resident fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project. "It is going to set a bad example for other countries, coming from the country that invented the internet," he said. Take China, for example, where the notion of an open internet has been effectively killed by the country's vast censorship apparatus.

For most other countries around the world, especially developed nations, net neutrality is taken for granted, said Andrew Lippman, a senior research scientist at MIT. "My concern is largely in the emerging world, where people may have few options for accessing the internet and governments might favour corporations' interests”, Lippman said on CNN.

India has chosen the alternative. Under such a service, certain applications -- often Facebook's (FB) WhatsApp or Messenger apps -- are not subject to data caps. If a user burns through her plan's allotted data, those apps would continue working while others cease to function.

India, which is a staunch defender of net neutrality, decided last year to kick out a high-profile "zero-rating" service, Facebook's Free Basics. Broadly speaking, India's telecommunications regulator has said it doesn't want any content discrimination.

The country decided it didn't want a market "where poor people get some sort of diet version of the internet, what the telecommunication companies allow, and the richer people get fuller internet that's faster," Tsui said.

The net neutrality rules echoed the principle that every website should enjoy equal access and speed and no deep-pocketed company could stifle the growth of its upstart competitor. Internet service providers in India say they will not block or throttle legal content but that they may engage in paid prioritization. They say consumers will see no change and argue that the largely unregulated internet functioned well in the two decades before the 2015 order.

Today, that risk looms over websites like Vimeo (a smaller competitor of YouTube) or Reddit (a much more niche social network compared to Facebook). If these or any other similar websites are choked in the US, they are likely to wilt for users in India too.

The scrapping of the net neutrality rules in the US also sets a dangerous precedent for other countries like India where emboldened regulators could pursue similar routes (though in fairness, India's TRAI only last month publicly declared it did not favour any discrimination on the internet).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.