Recently, the FCC repealed Net Neutrality Rules, causing outrage and concern for internet users in the United States. However, many people are still unsure what this means and in fact, many are still wondering what is Net Neutrality anyway. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at Net Neutrality and how it affects you.
What is Net Neutrality?
The main principle of Net Neutrality is that all the online data is to be treated in the same way, without discriminating it based on content, application, user, web page, etc. Net Neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers to block websites, slow down or throttle your connection or charge more for giving you access to specific websites. Thanks to Net Neutrality, you can access a variety of content with the same speed. Without Net Neutrality, major ISPs like Comcast could impose additional chargers on their customers when they access streaming services like Netflix. ISPs could also slow down your connection and prevent access to websites that cause unwanted traffic.
How does Net Neutrality works
In order to understand Net Neutrality, it is important to consider how the Internet itself works. The data transferred online, whether it is a web page or a video, travels in “packets“. These packets are small pieces of information that complete a message. Routers, known as specialized computers, can transfer these packets from their source to their final destination. Once they arrive, they are put together in their original order. The main principle of Net Neutrality establishes that the ISPs have to treat every packet in the same way. These packets can’t be transferred on the basis of their source, meaning, destination or application.
One of the reasons why people are concerned about the implications of losing Net Neutrality, is that ISPs can take advantage of the situation for their own financial benefit. For instance, Comcast, could slow down the packets used by Netflix users, simply because Netflix is the competitor of NBC, a subsidiary of Comcast. Furthermore, Comcast could even charge an extra fee to those who use Netflix. In fact, cable providers could place restrictions on specific channels and websites, or they could charge more from customers to watch premium options such as HBO.
Net Neutrality was the only thing stopping companies from looking for ways to increase their profits, even if that means bad news for customers. Without Net Neutrality, many fear that only companies that can make the most appealing of that can spend more money can survive. Since Net Neutrality has been repealed, many people are now wondering what are the direct implications for internet users.
What happens now that Net Neutrality has been repealed?
The main concern now that Net Neutrality has been repealed is that a “pay-to-play” technology may be implemented and that the service will be divided into a fast solution (first tier) and a slow one (second tier). Large media companies and those who can afford expensive plans will be able to enjoy fast internet, while the rest of user will have to settle down for a slow lane. Big names like Google and Facebook won’t have any issues in terms of speed. However, some experts believe that without Net Neutrality, the prices will increase, which could have an impact on these companies.
As the prices raise, start-up companies will struggle, which could deter innovation. The internet has succeeded in enabling small and medium companies to become rivals to large corporations. However, without Net Neutrality, it will be harder for new companies to break into the scene. It has to be said that the FCC and ISPs state that the freedom to compete by offering different prices and a variety of plans, could be beneficial for the industry.
Who can you trust?
The term Net Neutrality was coined by Tim Wu, an American lawyer and Professor at Columbia Law School. He has also expressed concern about the consequences of repealing Net Neutrality. The plan to repeal it could result in more power for broadband service to block media content, which affects online freedom. While we are yet to see the effects, internet companies like AT&T and Charter have stated that they will not throttle, block or interfere in their customers’ online activities and that they will continue following Net Neutrality rules.
The problem is that in some regions, there is only one provider available. The lack of competition means that the free-market argument loses weight. Some analysts believe that the main issue will be higher prices, instead of content blocking. If large companies see their costs increased, the burden will be eventually passed on to consumers. This will leave internet users without many choices.
Reasons to save Net Neutrality
To help you get a better idea of why Net Neutrality is worth saving, we will present a list of reasons why it is so important.
Freedom of Expression
Being able to express ourselves is one of the most important aspects of the internet. If ISPs can control our online activities, the main principle that has made the internet what it is today, will be dismantled. While in some countries, internet users don’t enjoy online freedom of expression, in others, the right for every users to publish content and share their views is protected. The UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR) in its Article 19.2 promotes the freedom to send, receive and search for information online. Online freedom is crucial for innovation and it can have a significant role in social and political development.
Undermining Net Neutrality also means that internet providers will have the chance to monitor communications and will be able to establish differences between messaging, streaming, browsing and other activities. Some providers apply Deep Packet Inspection and could use this to cooperate with spy government organizations.
Net Neutrality involves handling all kinds of content in the same manner. This is is a core principle for internet freedom and it has helped to keep the rights of internet users. Without this principle, the whole internet is affected. The zero discrimination promoted by Net Neutrality is what has prevented ISPs from taking control over the internet. Without Net Neutrality, they could be the ones deciding what content can be accessed by users and who can communicate online.
Easy Access to information
Nowadays, it is possible to access websites that provide a great deal of information. If we don’t save Net Neutrality, access to information may be limited. In order to be able to access it, or offer content faster, users would need to pay.
Net Neutrality promotes online democracy because it is based on the idea of treating all content and users equally. Financial power or social status are not the main factors considered under Net Neutrality. Saving it, will allow people to share ideas, regardless of their background.
Thanks to freedom of expression and the possibility of accessing content without issues, Net Neutrality has enabled consumers to have a choice and it has allowed new companies to make their entrance into the industry. This has facilitated the growth of information, cultural interaction and new ideas. If the Net Neutrality rules are not applied, network providers can prioritize their services, limiting consumers’ choice. Their main focus would be on financial gain, rather than customer satisfaction.
Without Net neutrality, ISPs could throttle or block services and content at will. We have come a long way thanks to the free flow of information online that Net Neutrality protects.
Innovation and Competition
Net Neutrality turns social media into a great platform for small and medium business that are just getting started. Businesses are able to interact with their customers and promote their brand. The introduction of new players and the healthy competition created are positive for the economy. If there is no Net Neutrality, large companies will have a significant advantage and start-ups will have little chance to succeed due to the high amounts that they would need to pay to access providers.
Digital Single Market
The Digital Single Market is supported by Net Neutrality, which promotes free communication and participation in open debates. Access to information is facilitated, but without Net Neutrality, it is at risk.
Protecting a Global Internet
Government organizations may try to get the help of access providers to restrict specific content. They look for ways to monitor the internet and access provider can provide assistance in this area. In countries like China and Iran, internet is heavily controlled by the respective governments. Net Neutrality can protect the global internet, preventing other countries to implement heavy censorship.
Why is Net Neutrality undermined?
In spite of the advantages of Net Neutrality, there are reasons why some are trying to break it.
Blocking or slowing down the internet traffic may bring financial gains to Internet Access Providers (IAPs), which provide access to ISPs and individual users. Internet Access Providers have complete control over the internet connection and have started to provide applications, services and content to extend their hegemony. This could eventually help them to become the gatekeepers of the internet. One example of the power of IAPs is the case of KPN, a major access provider in the Netherlands. The company started offering its own text-messaging service and to ensure that people had to use it, it blocked all the free-web based chart services.
In 2011, KPN required users to pay extra to get access to popular applications like Kik, WhatsApp and Skype. In addition, the company admitted that it used Deep Packet Inspection tool to find out which applications were used by its mobile Internet users. However in 2012, the Dutch government adopted a legislation to protect Net neutrality from such threats. With this, the Netherlands became the first country in Europe to implement a law to secure open and secure internet.
IAP may also block unwanted content on the internet, but in some cases, the filters they apply to prevent access to illegal or potentially harmful material, affect legitimate websites by mistake. It is also worth noting that Virgin Media, provides access using Deep Packet Inspection, which means that the information is transferred in the form of Packets and DPI looks into the contents of the packets. With DPI technology, Virgin Media can keep an eye on its network to make sure that there is no unauthorized/illegal access to the content of the artists in its music business catalog. In summary, telecom companies have the power to block and prevent access to content.
To comply with the law
In order to enforce the law, the government looks for ways to limit some types of traffic, filtering of the data and monitor the internet. Online censorship has increased over time and while it is more obvious in some countries than in others, it is still affecting people all over the world. Website blocking is applied even in countries that are meant to offer online freedom such as France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Ireland. One of the reasons why website blocking has been implemented is to adhere to local gambling policies.
Net Neutrality around the world
The situation for Net Neutrality around the world is constantly changing. Here is a list of the most recent updates regarding Net Neutrality in different countries and regions.
Net Neutrality has been debated for decades in the United States. In 2015, the FCC, which the government agency that regulates interstate communications, classified broadband as “Title II” communication service, meaning that providers are seen as common carriers, instead of information providers. Prior to 2015, there wasn’t legal protection for Net Neutrality in the United States. In April 2017, the newly appointed FCC director Ajit Pai, proposed to dismantle the concept of Net Neutrality completely. On December 14th, 2017, Net Neutrality was repealed.
In 2009, European legislators opted for not establishing legal protections for Net Neutrality in the Telecoms Package. Neelie Kroes was elected as European Commissioner in 2010 and while she promised to focus on Net Neutrality, there was not any significant proposal in her agenda or any progress to protect neutral internet in Europe. Still, in 2011, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned about the implications that violating Net Neutrality could have for online privacy and data protection. In 2012, the European Parliament demanded the Commission to propose legislation to secure Net Neutrality. Finally, a legislation to save Net Neutrality was passed and it was implemented on April 30th, 2016.
Following the decision to repeal Net Neutrality in the United States, many people are concerned about other countries following the US’ lead. This is specially true in the case of countries that are still under development and that may see the US as their guide. Even if Net Neutrality is dead in the United States, the battle is not lost in other countries. This is why taking steps to save Net Neutrality is still crucial.
Myths about Net Neutrality
There are some myths surrounding Net Neutrality so it sis worth to take some time to set the record straight. We will go through some of the most common things that you may see about Net Neutrality that are not accurate.
“Net Neutrality is bad for Infrastructure Development”
Internet users pay providers to be able to use applications and access content. This takes down the claim made by Internet Access Providers that suggests that access to content and applications are free. Users are willing to pay for broadband in order to enjoy the content and applications available on the internet. This means that Internet access providers depend on the demand for online content and services. Net Neutrality can actually promote the development of infrastructure. If people want to access applications that require high-bandwidth, the demand for faster internet connections increase, which will benefit access providers.
“Having Premium Applications and Content facilitates Broadband investment”
This is another myth that you may come across. ISPs are looking for ways to charge customers for content and applications, even when users are already playing providers to access online content and services anyway. Internet Access Providers claim that the fees collected could allow future generations to enjoy even better technology. However, there is no way to prove that providers will actually use the money to invest in such improvements.
“It causes issues for the quality of the internet”
You may come across information that claims that the laws that aim to protect Net Neutrality prevent Internet Access Provider to manage the network in an effective way, which results in poor internet quality. But this is simply not the case and the reality is that the quality of internet is affected by the Transmission Control Protocol. This is a network management tool that is crucial for the internet. Net Neutrality can’t affect the quality of internet. It is focused on preventing restrictions that affect open access to the internet.
“Customers can change their provider to get full internet”
According to the European Commission, if a customer finds that their internet provider blocks certain websites or services, they can simply switch to another provider that doesn’t restrict the content. The problem is that this is not a solution in many cases. If a website is blocked by most ISPs in a country, changing the provider won’t make a difference. Providers may come up with slow, restricted internet or offer a faster option that still offers access to only a few options.
“There is no need for regulation. The Market decides the nest steps”.
Net Neutrality allows a competition that is needed to create a healthy market. The problem is that the competition can’t prevent Internet access providers to adopt non-neutral practices. A regulatory framework is necessary to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Otherwise, it is likely that providers find a way to set a multi-tier internet, with some users getting a poor service, while others pay higher prices for a better option.
“Net Neutrality is a major problem in the United States, but not in Europe”.
While Net Neutrality has been attacked in the US and ISPs have previously interfered in customers’s ability to access the internet, there are also examples of this in Europe. The BEREC, which is the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, found that European providers restricted access to P2P sites.
“Net Neutrality is bad for innovation”
The reality is that Net Neutrality actually enables innovation, as previously discussed. It has facilitated new options by offering small, medium and large companies to compete in a diverse market, with the same chances. Without Net Neutrality, small and medium businesses are in disadvantage.
How to keep Net Neutrality
There are some things that can be done in order to safeguard Net neutrality and keep the internet open and accessible to all. Here are some important aspects that can save Net Neutrality. These are the measures that could help to keep internet accessible and secure for all users.
Keep the Internet Neutral
Open and unrestricted access is what has allowed the internet to succeed. Even major companies like Google and Facebook have made efforts to offer free internet in isolated areas. If additional fees are charged for internet services, less people will be able to access it.
Internet without restrictions
Free internet may not secure Net Neutrality, but offering access to content without restrictions is key for online freedom. Unfortunately, there are many cases in which we experience blocks that prevents us from accessing the content we want, such as geographical blocks.
Prevent discriminatory traffic handling
ISPs should not be able to throttle the internet or to interfere on users’ online activities. Discriminatory traffic management should only be applied in specific cases, when there is a network management issues, for example. But it should be the last option to consider.
Legal transparency regarding traffic management
Internet access providers should have clarity regarding traffic management. In each case, a traffic management rule has to be implemented. This can help to prevent Internet providers from abusing their power.
Define the Internet Access Providers’ obligations
It is important to define the obligations of Internet providers to have a clear idea of what they have to offer to customers.
Mention Minimum Bandwidth in Contracts
Internet Service Providers have to mention the minimum bandwidth in their contracts to ensure that consumers can find if what they get can be used for applications like WhatApp, Skype, or online games. In addition, ISPs should offer tools that allows users to test the quality of their internet connection.
The Use of Deep Packet Inspection should not be allowed
Prohibiting the use of DPI is another measure that will help Net Neutrality to survive since it intervenes in the online activities of users. It should be allowed only in specific cases, such as when National Security is involved.
Creation of a Government Entity
The government should establish an authority that could be kept accountable for any violation against the measures that ensure open access to the internet. End users should be able to report violations to that authority, in case their online privacy is attacked.
If an access provider abuses its power and block, throttles, interferes the customers online activities, or overcharges them for accessing online services, a sanction should be applied.
How to save Net Neutrality
In spite the efforts of organizations and activists, following the FCC decision on Dec 14th, Net Neutrality has been repealed in the United States. It hasn’t yet come into force, but there are a few things that you can do to fight internet discrimination. Even if the policies of Net Neutrality are no longer followed, is there a way to protect yourself against internet speed throttling, website blocking and other measures taken by your ISP? There is something that you can do to safeguard your access to the internet and that is using a VPN. With this technology, you defeat the blocks that affect your online experience. Here is what you can do with a VPN.
Even in countries that are not subject to heavy restrictions on the internet, there are some websites and content that are blocked. You may come across blocks implemented by your ISP, but also due to geographical restrictions. There are also restrictions in place in some public network. The result in every case is that you are not able to access the content that you want. The good news is that a VPN can help you to bypass these restrictions by changing your IP address. You just need to connect to a VPN server and you will get a different IP and location.
Bypass Internet Congestion
Once a plan to establish fast and slow lanes on the internet is put in place, the traffic in the slow line is likely to pile up. With a VPN, you can change your location to get around this congestion. While it won’t completely reduce the congestion, it can improve the speed of your connection.
Avoid ISP Throttling
ISPs will are also set to undermine Net Neutrality by throttling certain content. You will notice that when you try to access a specific website or service, the connection slows down, but if you try to access other websites, the content loads faster. This shows that your ISP is slowing down the speed of a website or application that uses a lot of bandwidth. Usually they use this measure on streaming websites and users are required to pay a higher fee. With a VPN, your ISP won’t see your real IP address as it is replaced with one assigned by the VPN. This gives you anonymity and lets you protect yourself from ISP throttling as your provider won;t recognize the IP used.
Can a VPN help you to get around the Net Neutrality repeal?
Like Net Neutrality, a VPN is focused on helping you to enjoy online freedom and to protect yourself from ISPs’ practices that affect your privacy. With a VPN, you can bypass the restrictions that will be implemented as a result of Net Neutrality repeal. The VPN will allow you to access content blocked by your ISP and it will help you to avoid throttling. One thing to consider is that while a VPN will allow you to bypass most restrictions, if a website requires paid access, a VPN won’t be able to circumvent that. You will be able to access content online, but if access packages for a fast lane are implemented, it will be difficult to get around this using a VPN.
What are the implications of Net Neutrality for Kodi users?
Unfortunately for Kodi fans, without Net Neutrality, their streaming experience will be severely affected. At the moment, Kodi users can stream free media content using third-party Kodi add-ons, which gather streaming links from different online sources. However, without Net Neutrality it is likely that all the websites from which the content is obtained, will be blocked. This means that Kodi users won’t be able to stream free media content. However, using a VPN will allow you to bypass restrictions on Kodi and unblock websites that are used by Kodi third-party add-ons to get streaming links. With a VPN, Kodi users will also be able to change their location to access content that is not available in their country.
Can Net Neutrality still be saved in the US?
After the FCC’s vote, there is still hope to save Net Neutrality, although the road can be difficult. There are some ways in which the current rules can be reestablished since the voting was to change rules, not law. A court order is one of the ways in which the Net Neutrality rules that are currently in place can be saved. A bill passed in Congress and signed by President Trump can also save Net Neutrality. That, or that the FCC’s commissioners change their minds. Some sectors are willing to bring the rule changes to court to prevent it from happening. If this happens, the litigation can take a long time, even years and in the meantime, it is likely that the old rules would be still applied.
Non-profit organizations that defend Net Neutrality
There are organizations and activists that continue fighting to protect open access to the internet. If you want to help to save Net Neutrality, you can support the below organizations and their cause.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Founded in 1990, Electronic Frontier Foundation is an organization that focuses on defending civil liberties in the internet. It stands for online privacy and freedom of expression in the digital world.
Fight for the Future
This organization works to promote that the advantages of the internet and its incredible potential for good causes. Fight For the Future stands for Net Neutrality and its capacity to keep the internet as a tool for innovation and as a platform for freedom of expression.
Protect Internet Freedom
Online privacy and censorship are the main concerns for Protect Internet Freedom. The organization defend the right to privacy and speaks about the need for transparency from government organizations.
European Digital Rights (EDRi)
European Digital Rights recognizes the crucial role of Information Technology in the world. The organization aims to fight against the attacks on digital rights.