The internet has always been a platform where everybody can share data freely. There is (at least in the western world) no censorship, there is nothing to hold people back from expressing themselves. But recently the idea of ending ‘net neutrality’ (where every bit of data is treated equally by internet service providers (ISP)) is becoming a real debate. Theoretically, if net neutrality ends, ISPs can block certain websites if a person has not paid for a ‘package’ that includes those websites, which could be considered a form of censorship. But for those of you who don’t know what any of this means, we’ll break it down for you:
What is Net Neutrality?
It is the idea that mobile and ISPs treat all websites and services the same. We pay a monthly fee to our ISP (e.g. BT) to access the internet and the charge per month depends on the download speed we opt for. The charge is the same each month and we can access any website as many times as we like.
What is the proposed change?
What ISPs hope to do is charge the customer for the types of websites they use. For example, they might charge £10 a month for their customers to access social media sites, blogs and news sites, and a higher fee, say, £30 a month to access video streaming sites like Netflix, Sky Go, or YouTube because these kinds of sites require more bandwidth and speed. Think of it like a TV subscription where you only pay for the channels you want.
Why is this a problem?
If people can only access certain websites that their ISP has deemed worthy of including in their package, then people will miss out on visiting and discovering lots of other websites. If you want to shop online for something, you may not be able to see all relevant websites where you can buy that product unless it’s included in your package. Potentially, ISPs could stop you from using Google Maps for example, and instead require you to use their own version.
An end to net neutrality will also hurt internet start-ups who will not be able to compete with large companies forking out millions to ISPs to ensure their websites run smoothly and are available in subscription packages. New businesses will fail to reach people online and will not be able to rival bigger names.
Why do ISPs want to end net neutrality?
ISPs have to keep growing because the demand for internet is always increasing. To expand a network requires significant investment and expense. The only way to pay for this is either by charging all customers the same or by charging the companies that use far more of the network resources e.g. Netflix. Of course, if ISPs charge Netflix, then Netflix will pass that cost on to their customers, which they do not want to do, because they will lose those customers who cannot afford it. Essentially, ISPs want people who use these types of high-speed, high-data services to pay more than people who only visit text-only websites.
Are there arguments against net neutrality not from the ISP POV?
Yes. In some developing countries, the only way to access the internet is through mobile and ‘zero-rated’ services – access to sites such as Twitter and Facebook for free. Without these zero-rated services, many people would not be online at all.