Net neutrality has been a hot topic over the past year, with both American and European authorities making rulings and amending existing regulations to fit the expanded digital world.
The debate centres on the idea that ISPs should give users equal access to content, regardless of how they are charged and the source of the content.
A recent study found that several major US internet providers had significantly slower data speeds for some websites in certain American cities. Although no conclusion was drawn from this data – whether it was some kind of deliberate act by the ISP or just a network infrastructure issue – campaigners are using the research to show that there is,
according to Tim Karr, Free Press, “widespread and systemic abuse across the network”, and that ISPs can throttle data whenever they wish.
In 2014, a federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) didn’t have the authority to prevent ISPs from regulating traffic speeds. ISPs, such as Verizon, argued that they should be allowed to regulate the traffic on the networks that they built.
However, the content providers – like Google, Netflix and Amazon – argued that this meant that ISPs could partner with select content providers and agree to give them (and therefore their customers who pay extra for a service) priority, which in their opinion
goes against the idea of an open internet
(what campaigners refer to as paid prioritisation).
The court ruled that if the FCC wanted to continue its net neutrality drive, it would need to reclassify broadband as a utility (under Title II of the Communications Act). The FCC did so
just over a year later. The move is expected to help start-ups, as their apps and cloud-based services won’t be reliant on the whims of their ISP – giving them a greater choice when it comes to providers.
It’s not just ISPs either,
Republican presidential candidates are also against the move, primarily because it represents government interfering in the broadband industry, potentially leading to greater involvement down the road.
With such a diverse selection of parties throwing their 2 cents
into the ring, it looks as though, for now at least, that the debate is set to continue for some time yet.