Special Thank You to Adriana who acted as editor on this post.
So in my first post, I wrote that I am passionate about the Internet. The internet, in my opinion, is the single greatest invention of the 20th Century. Part of what makes the internet so great is the reason why it come into existence in the first place: the internet and the World Wide Web were born out of the desire to freely share information between universities and other academic institutions. These humble beginnings, forged from the desire to share rather than make a profit, is what allowed the internet to take off and what made it what it is today.
Currently, all sites on the internet are treated the same. Reading my blog now, for example, is given the same priority by your local ISP (internet service provider) as your friends looking at your Facebook, or your family watching Netflix. Basically, all sites are given the same priority by the Internet infrastructure. We’ll call this net neutrality- and it is something that also allows the internet to be uncensored. Before I go on to explain why net neutrality is important, let me briefly describe why it’s under threat.
If you weren’t previously aware, internet traffic is measured in “bits per second” (although it’s nowadays normally quoted in Megabits [1,000,000 bits] or even Gigabits [1000,000,000 bits]). The number of bits that you can push through the internet infrastructure is called bandwidth. In a sense, the internet is like a series of water pipes; the bigger the pipe, the more water you can push through it. Bandwidth is important is because telecom companies use it as a reason to destroy net neutrality.These companies argue that the more popular sites, especially sites that specialise in video such as Youtube and Netflix, cost them more money to keep online because they require more bandwidth. The telecoms companies’ proposed solution to this is that they want to charge these popular sites to have a priority over their network. If this was allowed to happen, the resulting change would create a two-tier internet: the so-called fast lane, which would be a toll lane that you (as a site owner) would have to pay to be in, and a slow lane that everyone else would end up in. Referring back to my previous example: if you were to read my blog, you would then be shunted onto the slow lane whilst your friends using Facebook and Netflix would be in the fast lanes. With this, the internet would lose its excitement and what makes it great. Worse than that, it could allow for censorship!
One of the glorious things about the internet is that it allows you to access free information on whatever subject takes your interest! I have a passion for video game soundtracks and I love the music of all video games; I find fascinating and they can be beautiful, exciting, and thought-provoking. Best of all, I can indulge this interest because I can listen to the music on Youtube, Spotify, or purchase it from iTunes, Amazon, or even import it directly from Japan. I can also talk to other video game soundtrack fans on forums, and read reviews and opinions on blogs. Currently, all of those outlets that I enjoy are provided at the same priority by the ISP and the internet backbone as any other music artist (yes even the work of Justin Beiber.) If telecom companies were allowed to prioritize traffic, then the people that are interested in video game soundtrack (which don’t make as much revenue) would be reprioritized down, in favour of supplying the Justin Beiber fans.
The internet is truly innovative, especially when it is used to deliver information into shops, banks, and daily applications. The loss of net neutrality would mean that this innovation would dry up. This is because, to get the new product or service noticed, you would need to be able to buy priority access, and thus the barrier to entry would be increased. Imagine you had an idea for something, such as a new web store to a whole new application, the only way to compete with pre-existing companies would be to pay the telecom companies to prioritize your site. I make my living from the internet. Just the thought of that unequality on the web terrorizes me (I couldn’t imagine how someone who uses the internet for freedom of speech and innovation would feel.) So the giants that make their money off the internet would become richer, and the new and exciting innovations would become stifled. An open, free and fair internet, would be no more. And just to drive my point home, if you don’t believe that it will make that much of a difference, KissMetrics (ref: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/?wide=1) states that loading times over 4 seconds will see 25% of your potential customers abandon the site. This increases on mobile devices which makes up 30% of web access as of 2014 (ref: http://gs.statcounter.com/press/mobile-internet-usage-soars-by-67-perc).
The other major issue, and a more serious one at that, is that of censorship. Censorship could occur in two ways: accidental and intentional. Accidental censorship is a slight variation on the above theory where content is harder to access because it is in the slow lane, and therefore is overlooked. In this form of censorship, a person or organisation could publish an article on the internet that is of public importance, but the information would is lost as it would not reach people as readily. Organisations that publish this important information (such as wikipedia , wikileaks and people like the Electronic Frontier Foundation) don’t tend to have a large purse, so they would not be able to purchase priority access. These organisations are the very ones that keep the large telecoms companies honest and accountable, so the telecoms companies would benefit from this form of censorship.
When you treat data purely on financial considerations you leave it open to abuse and this is where we get intentional censorship. One possible and very likely situation could be that companies would purchase priority in order to have an advantage over their competitors. This could even take a darker turn if it was used by the ISP to silence people that are speaking out against their practises, or deals that are of importance to the public. This could be as simple as making access to reviews harder to read, right up to suppressing damaging practices such as issues of censorship, privacy, and bad business practises.
For more information on protecting Net Neutrality see: