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No Neutrals on Net Neutrality

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When technology and politics collide, it’s often corporations versus the people’s rights and the Internet has always been a prime battleground. Some have embraced it, others see it as an evil of the modern age, but no one can deny the power it brings to the masses and the fear it strikes into the hearts of those in power. In the last year, governments have begun to take sides on the issue of net neutrality, the sovereignty of the Internet and the rights of people using it.

Unsurprisingly, the US has come out in favour of suppressing and limiting the use of the Internet, voting against proposed legislation to enshrine net neutrality in law, but more attempts are expected. The US is among the largest providers of Internet content ranging from games to video services and limiting these services or the speeds to them may stunt their growth in the future. However, it is unlikely that all out policing of the Internet, such as China’s policies, will ever be put in place by the government, as it would require huge resources and fuel an already active lawsuit community in the media industries. The Dutch parliament recently passed through legislation enforcing net neutrality in the mobile industry, preventing mobile operators such as Vodafone from blocking or charging extra for services like Skype and WhatsApp. Net neutrality is also supported by the Council of Europe, which believes users should be able use the internet however they choose and not be limited depending on the size or type of content.

Here in the UK however, the government is currently in the process of abolishing net neutrality altogether with the Digital Economy Act, making ISPs monitor everything on the off chance they catch someone downloading copyrighted material without permission. The problems of enforcing this, should it eventually go through, are well known in terms of both the technical and the legal ramifications. ISPs would incur huge costs which would likely be recouped by raising prices of broadband, further delaying the progress of a network that is already far behind other countries and in danger of isolating the UK, as the rest of the world continue to improve and grow in this technological age.

ISPs are currently caught in the middle of this battle and will not find the outcome to be beneficial to them no matter who wins. On the one hand, policing the Internet would be a hugely costly operation and would not endear them to their customers and if net neutrality wins out in the end, then ISPs would lose some freedom in choosing what to charge for and prevent them from differentiating their services from those of competitors. This battle is far from over, in fact it’s just beginning. The outcome may appear to be in the hands of politicians, but the practicalities of policing the Internet and the complications it brings still seems beyond them and perhaps realisation may come too late. However, with the EC in favour of net neutrality, we may see one of the first tangible benefits to ordinary people, of being in the EU. In the end, the Internet community has proven time and again that it is amazingly resistant to any attempts to limit or block content and many of the decision makers of the world remain ignorant about new technologies and afraid of change. Staving off net neutrality will only stunt the growth of economies and slow progress, but will governments see this in time? Only time itself will tell.

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Written by atalukdar

July 1, 2011 at 1:00 am