On 12 July an Internet-wide day of action is planned in support of net neutrality. Web Matters wholeheartedly supports this action, which has been organised by Fight For The Future and other organisations.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is “the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” (Wikipedia)
This concept is fundamental to ensuring that there is no discrimination, either positive or negative, for different types of data travelling over the Internet.
Without net neutrality, ISPs – and the governments which regulate them – would be free to engage in damaging practices such as:
- Slowing down access to websites and online services which cannot – or will not – pay a premium to ISPs, creating a tax on consumer access;
- Throttling or entirely blocking web sites and online services with which the ISP disagrees, whether that is a competitor’s services, charities, or health information;
- Throttling or entirely blocking web sites as a result of government pressure, for example, social media sites and blogging platforms which host user content critical of that government.
Web Matters stands against discrimination for profit in the guise of the market, or censorship under the cover of deregulation. These are values which represent the opposite of what the web was meant to be – a level playing field on which everyone can have a voice regardless of ability to pay.
Why is this an issue now?
Net neutrality is generally established, though not guaranteed, in Europe through Article 3 of Regulation EU 2015/2120.
However, in the United States – where many of the sites and services millions of web users rely on are based – net neutrality is under attack.
Under the mantras of deregulation and market control, the Republican party has had the net neutrality provisions in their sights for some time, and began implementing plans for its removal (see: Ars Technica, Techdirt) as soon as Donald Trump was elected to office. There are two reasons for this. One is the general right-leaning adherence to libertarian market principles. The other is deep personal antipathy towards President Obama, under whose administration the net neutrality principles were enshrined.
This podcast provides an excellent introduction to the partisan politics behind the attack on net neutrality.
In the US, the regulation of telecommunications, including internet service providers, falls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under the Trump presidency, the FCC’s moves to dismantle net neutrality have escalated fast. In response, dozens of organisations have come together to plan a day of action in advance of the FCC’s first formal discussion on the issue.
We urge all our followers and the wider Internet community at large to get involved in the day of action. That site provides widgets, plugins, and resources for you to use on your own sites.
But this is an American thing. Could this happen here?
It already has.
In the past week, you may have seen Three mobile’s new tariff offering users unlimited access to Netflix, SoundCloud, Deezer and TVPlayer which will not come out of the user’s data allowance. This is a blatant rejection of the principles of net neutrality.
The reason these services are being offered to Three’s users without counting towards their data allowance is that these services have paid Three for the privilege. Who is to say that in future, part of the deal could mean users would be charged extra to access streaming services outside the deal, or that those competitor services might find themselves loading v e r y s l o w l y ?
And what of the UK after Brexit, when it is no longer bound by Article 2015/2120, and a government committed to market privatisation turns its attention to the internet? Conservatives have had net neutrality in their sights in the past. They will absolutely have another look later on.
This is why it is so important for everyone to take part in the day of action on 12 July. This fight is America’s now.
It will be ours soon.