The Tangled Net

Between the everyday batch of now disgraced entertainers and escalating political tensions, our newsfeeds are filled with already upsetting news. Sometimes our only comfort is to stream the latest watercooler moment on Netflix and forget the worrisome outside world. But what if you had to pay extra to simply access Netflix? Or indeed, access the newsfeed itself? These are the threats posed by ending net neutrality.   

When net neutrality is enforced, as it is right now, all internet service providers must allow equal access to apps and content, regardless of the source. If it were not enforced, one’s internet service provider could make it harder to access parts of the internet at its own discretion. In the United States, this reality is becoming more likely. The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to revoke rules protecting net neutrality. The chair, Ajit Pai, wrote on Twitter “I’m proposing to repeal the heavy-handed Internet regulations… and to return to the light touch framework which the Internet developed and thrived before 2015”.

But what will the Internet look like without net neutrality? By removing the acknowledgement that all data is equal, large Internet companies could favour their own business interests. This could turn into slower speeds for the user, higher prices to access certain websites (Netflix would most certainly be affected). And this is not without precedent. Net neutrality is not enforced in many countries in South America, Europe and Asia.

But what does net neutrality look like within the European Union? In May 2015, the first EU-wide net neutrality rules were adopted. These adoptions help to shape a Digital Single Market, creating the individual and enforceable right for end-users to access and distribute internet content and services of their choice. The rules enshrine the principle of net neutrality into EU law: no blocking or throttling or discrimination of online content, applications and services.

Net neutrality has a positive effect for advertisers too. In ensuring that all data traffic looks equal, internet service providers cannot discriminate data that does not suit their business interests. This keeps the internet open. Should it become fragmented and tiered, advertisers will need to work around finding their audiences preferred bundle to retarget.

As net neutrality has been repealed as of December 14th in the US (though a heavy legal battle has already been announced to derail it), it remains an important feature of the Digital Single Market within the EU. As the US becomes more separate from the rest of the world, with the Trump Administration favouring a backseat approach to their presence on the world stage, will net neutrality become a battle cry for the self-entitled Resistance? With Brexit gathering more steam, and talks entering their second phase in February 2018, the Conservative-DUP government may use net neutrality as a bargaining chip, threatening the UK citizens ability to freely access the Internet.

While we await the US appeal and watch with a keen eye how Phase 2 of Brexit talks play out, perhaps the irony will be lost on some that these developments will be published on some newsfeeds apps that may soon be too high of a cost to bear.

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