Seven Reasons Why “Net Neutrality” is a Big Deal

August 14, 2014

By Ghassan Atmeh

We all use the internet in one way or the other. We check our email, keep track of our friends, pay our bills, read the news, watch videos of funny cats, video call people who are thousands of miles away, watch historical events unfold live from the comfort of our bedrooms, or read articles like this one. However, content on the internet cannot be accessed by any individual or organization unless they acquire an internet connection through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). It is assumed that these ISP’s would treat all Internet content as “equal” and that they do not discriminate between content based on material or hosts. Hence rendering the Internet an open, “neutral” network. This is the core of the net neutrality principle; that any user, be it a person or organization, has the right to access all content on the Internet in a neutral fashion at the speeds advertised by the ISP without halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering of any kind. This issue, combined with the right to free speech, is under debate around the world. Here are seven reasons why net neutrality is a big deal:

1) More money =  faster content delivery

In many countries in the world, Jordan included, there are a handful of ISP’s. They are the gatekeepers of the internet if you will. Their job is to provide the user with the means to access the content of the Internet. The user has the right to access any content at the advertised speeds equally and without any halting or shaping of any kind. The issue is that an ISP has the power to manipulate the content delivery experience for its users and can start charging websites and companies for fast delivery of their content to its subscribers. This violates the basic principle of content neutrality and leads to a situation where big and wealthy corporations or website owners can deliver their content in an uninterrupted fashion while others have to struggle.

2) A non-neutral net = a stagnant economy

The internet has grown so rapidly in the last decade that it has become a major platform for businesses. Many online shopping  projects and online services have become integrated into our daily lives. Also, small businesses and startups usually rely on their websites to get noticed when they launch. If ISPs are allowed to give preferential speed for some data over the other then there would be no equality between these economic entities. Small start-ups can no longer be globally noticed, and small businesses would no longer afford to market themselves online as they can now. Other businesses such as news websites and news video content providers would also be affected if the data requested by the user is not received equally.

3) What you pay is not what you get

If you are an individual or organization that requires an internet connection (a big chunk of the Earth’s population) then the topic of net neutrality affects you directly. Think of it this way, you are trying to access a video on a news website, whose reporting you find appealing, about the current situation in the Middle East. But the site takes forever to load. On the other tab of your browser you have loaded YouTube where the recommended video for the day is that of a dog skateboarding and it loads at the speed of light. It is clear in this scenario that your consumption of news, or media in general becomes a matter of content delivery speed rather than quality of reporting or content.

4) Education quality is at stake here

Most certainly if there is any manipulation with how the Internet content is delivered, it would affect education. Students of all ages nowadays rely on the internet for resources in their studies. Whether it is for preparing a school science project or a college term paper, the internet has become essential in searching for knowledge. Imagine if some publishers were easier to access than others (from an internet connection point of view). What if you wanted to read a paper about network neutrality on a website but can never get it to load, however, a different resource mainly involved in geology is always readily available through your connection. This would surely affect the way science and education of all kinds would be shaped by the manipulation of the Internet connection.

5) Get ready to give up what is left of your online privacy

If an ISP manipulates or shapes the data you are receiving, it would be done based on studies of users’ online activity. This would mean that the ISP checks what websites people visit, what content they request, what videos they are watching, and when all this activity takes place. This is basically infringing on a user’s right to privacy. If a user does not want to share what they are doing online with their ISP it is their right to do so. Just as it is the user’s right to not share what they are saying or hearing on their phone calls with the phone company.

6) It’s not just affecting the individual, but the entire technology industry

All over the world there are advocates for a free and open internet. And recently even major corporations who are giants in the internet business such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook, among many others, have signed a letter addressing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States supporting an open and free Internet. They also denounced the outcomes of having an internet where ISPs discriminate both technically and financially against internet companies. We must note though that some of these companies’ actions do not reflect their commitment to the letter they signed. Facebook for example has adopted the “pay-as-you-app” model in the Philippines, Paraguay and Tanzania, which charges users different rates for data consumed by different apps. Thus, while all apps are equal, some are more equal than others.

7) Free speech anyone?

As a medium that can help anyone reach masses and allow them to express their opinions along with exercising their right to free speech, the internet must remain a place where all voices get an equal chance. Many of the world’s recent political and social events have been reported, explained, analyzed, debated, and even orchestrated through the use of the internet. Remember how events that played out in Tahrir Square in Egypt were broadcast on live streams via the internet, and how crimes committed against the Egyptian people were documented and distributed all over the world. The situation in Syria for the past 3 years has been followed by millions of people all over the globe. The mass killings and forced immigration of civilians in Iraq have also been brought to light for the whole world to see through the internet. Most recently as well the Israeli offensive on Gaza which has taken the lives of more than 1800 people, the majority of which are civilian, has been opposed and debated online through social media sites and video hosting sites. These voices of freedom, liberation, and peace would not stand a chance in an Internet where the highest bidder has the loudest voice.

The net neutrality debate is a global one but hardly new, many people have been discussing the issue since the 1990’s. However, recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States changed the laws governing ISPs content delivery. This change has left room for ISPs to manipulate content delivery. This ignited the net neutrality debate in the Unites States and worldwide. The FCC set up a comments page so that they can get feedback from the people affected by these changes; all the internet users in the U.S. The response was 1.1 million “open-internet” comments. The data analysis firm Quid parsed part of the comments and released a graphic of the analysis, published on NPR’s website.

We at 7iber see net neutrality as a topic certainly worth debating. That is why we are hosting a “hangout” as part of the Wireless (Lasilkee) program to discuss how principles of net neutrality are practiced in Jordan. Please join us on Saturday August 16th at 6 pm for an open debate on net neutrality in Jordan.