What is net neutrality?  The open internet explained

What is net neutrality? The open internet explained

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you’ve probably come across the term “net neutrality”. The concept has been debated among lawmakers around the world over the past decade, but what is it?

Read on to find out all about net neutrality, including what it is, the strongest arguments for and against and, most importantly, what is the current position in the UK?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all Internet users, from individuals to mega-corporations, deserve equal access to the same network performance and content without having to pay more for that privilege.

This includes both unlimited data speeds and any legal content you might want to access.

“Net neutrality, also known as the ‘open internet,’ is the principle that you control what you see and do online, not the broadband provider that connects you to the internet,” reads the Ofcom’s definition of the term.

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Proponents of net neutrality want the Internet to be legally considered a public utility, like water or electricity. They view the web as a service to which every citizen is entitled and something that should not be modified or restricted by those who provide it.

Opponents of net neutrality insist that companies that require and use higher bandwidths, like Google or Disney Plus, should be charged for the extra demand they place on their company’s infrastructure. Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The Net Neutrality Argument

There are strong arguments for and against net neutrality. Proponents of net neutrality include internet content providers and consumer advocates, while ISPs and economists tend to sit on the other side of the fence.

On the net neutrality side, there is the concept that the internet was built on the idea of ​​free and equal distribution of knowledge and that any attempt to control or limit your service would contradict that.

The loss of net neutrality would give ISPs the power to choose which websites and companies have access to the best performance. They might even limit the performance of specific sites based on payments made by direct rivals, manipulating traffic in a certain direction.

Prioritizing and blocking websites and content based on what one can afford would generally favor the rich and powerful, making net neutrality an obvious anti-competitive issue and leaving small start-ups with little room to put one foot in the door.

The argument against net neutrality

There is also a valid argument to be made on the side against net neutrality, both for ISPs and in the case of everyday consumers.

The argument against net neutrality is that those who derive the most benefit and financial gain from the Internet, such as Meta or Netflix, should be required to pay more than us regular users for this privilege.

These companies monopolize a substantial amount of an ISP’s bandwidth, so the argument is that they should be charged more for the extra demand they place on that provider’s infrastructure.

The money they pay could then be used to improve internet services for the rest of us (although that’s in the hands of the ISP itself).

Net neutrality in the UK

Currently in the UK, ISPs are required by law to follow specific rules to ensure that they treat all internet traffic on their networks equally and refrain from favoring specific websites or services. .

The following rules are applied by Ofcom:

  • Your provider must not block access, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against Internet traffic on its network, except as necessary for legal, security, or emergency reasons.
  • Your provider must not manage its Internet traffic to gain a commercial advantage – for example, it must not redirect you from a website to a site with which it is affiliated or slow down the services of competing organizations.
  • Your provider may take reasonable steps to manage its Internet traffic so that its network functions properly. But these measures should not be taken longer than necessary. Your provider should be absolutely clear about their traffic management policy and practices.

That said, each ISP will have their own approach to net neutrality, which they are legally required to develop in your contract.

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