Explainer: What is net neutrality?

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Explainer: What is net neutrality?

We look at what net neutrality is and explore surrounding issues...

Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should enable equal levels of access to all web services.

Under net neutrality, ISPs should not prioritise any websites over any others, nor block or reduce access to any websites. The principle dictates that internet gatekeepers cannot adjust online connectivity speeds or access based on the user, content, website, or platform.

The concept is based on the idea of all data being equally available to all users, rather than some data prioritised for specific subsections of internet users; for instance, creating internet ‘fast lanes’ for specific types of content like video streaming, or charging content creators or users money for faster access.

In practice, net neutrality laws often allow for some discrimination, but only to prevent spam, malware or other unwanted content reaching unwitting end users.

Many countries have adopted net neutrality, effectively counting the internet as a public utility alongside electricity and water.

What is throttling?

Throttling can be defined as when a network provider deliberately slows the delivery of an internet service. This may be for a number of reasons - it could be where one user pays to access more bandwidth which means other users' access is impaired to boost the user paying more, or it may be done to prevent user congestion.

Where is net neutrality supported?

The first country to enact net neutrality into law was Chile in 2010, and has since been joined by other countries such as Slovenia, Brazil and the Netherlands.

In August 2016 the EU published net neutrality guidelines which outlined how national regulatory bodies of its member states should bring net neutrality rules into force. ISPs and telcos could, realistically, charge online services more money in order to ensure products run more smoothly on the internet, removing the cost burden which network providers experience.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (Berec) has now stated that only some services can receive special treatment but only as long it does not interfere with or impede other services.

Telcos are allowed to provide "specialised services" like VoLTE, which needs sufficient bandwidth to work properly. Berec also added 5G services utlising network slicing as a new category.

The rules underlines people's right to access any content or data they choose, or to use any service or run any application they desire, as long as the law isn't broken when doing so. Network providers cannot throttle access to internet service either.

The US established net neutrality regulations in 2015 under president Obama, but these rules have since come under fire from officials appointed by Donald Trump, who is himself opposed to the principle. 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai proposed a plan to abolish net neutrality rules in November 2017, drawing widespread criticism from tech companies and digital advocacy groups alike. Telcos, on the other hand, said that it would fuel innovation and give customers more choice. 

Will Trump overturn US net neutrality?

Trump has made his dim view of net neutrality widely known, and has committed to abolishing the regulations. He appointed Ajit Pai, a member of the Federal Communications Commission who shares his drive to strike down the rules, to the position of FCC chairman early on in his presidency.

Pai proposed a plan to abolish net neutrality rules in November 2017, drawing widespread criticism from tech companies and digital advocacy groups alike. Telcos, on the other hand, said that it would fuel innovation and give customers more choice.

The plans will be voted on by the FCC - the majority of which is currently made up of Republican officials - on 14 December, and experts expect the repeal to be approved with no problems.

Assuming the rollback is approved, the changes will likely not come into effect until later in 2018 - although groups opposed to the removal are set to challenge it in court, which could impede proceedings.

Copyright © ITPro, Dennis Publishing
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