Why the net neutrality uproar in the US should interest us

The uproar about the possible rollback of net neutrality rules by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems not to have as much as raised ripple of interest locally. Perhaps local consumers should pay attention.

The uproar about the possible rollback of net neutrality rules by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seems not to have as much as raised ripple of interest locally.

Perhaps local consumers should pay attention. The rules guarantee that internet service providers (ISPs) treat all web traffic equally. ISPs can’t block or slow down your access to lawful content, nor can they create so-called “fast lanes” for content providers who are willing to pay extra.

 

As the situation currently stands locally, you are as good as the amount of data bundles in your phone. Everyone is open to enjoy the highest speeds available if your device is 3G or 4G enabled.

 

The reason we should pay attention to the goings on in the US is the tendency that what happens there often has ripple effects everywhere, including here in the region.

 

No matter where you are, net neutrality ensures you don’t pay more than you already do to access movies and other online entertainment or make that Skype or WhatsApp call.

If the Trump administration gets its way and abolishes net neutrality, some of the major US service providers – AT&T, Charter, Verizon, Comcast – could, at a cost, privilege some content providers over others.

Arguments against this are legion. If such discrimination had been allowed, giving the American ISPs leeway to push you towards content of their choice, video streaming sites such as Netflix or YouTube could not have been possible.

Net neutrality rules enabled them to find their audiences and become the giants they are today.

It may, therefore, seem obvious the impact of scrapping net neutrality would have an effect similar to being a start-up-killer muzzling creativity, only that the giant US service providers seem more motivated towards profit in their push to modify net neutrality rules in their favour.

Closer to home, it remains open to speculation whether our local internet service providers may not try to similarly cash in, borrowing from what eventually transpires in the America.

ISPs in the region remain self-interested gatekeepers, and wield the tools to control some of the world’s most important channels for information, from your Facebook feed to Google results to your phone’s home screen.

Last Wednesday was Christened the “Day of Action” by more than 120,000 US websites, public policy groups, as well as individuals, artists, online creators, internet companies and other organizations to protest the FCC plan to overturn net neutrality rules.

They temporarily halted full access to their website homepages with a prominent message that they’re “blocked” to demonstrate just how important net neutrality is to free choice on the internet.

The message feigned that only upgrading to “premium” (paid) service plans would allow users access to blocked sites and services. But this was a protest of which visitors were assured, “Don’t worry, the sites aren’t really blocked.

Clicking on the message will take you to a link for ‘Dear FCC’, our tool for submitting comments to the FCC and making your voice heard.”

Those who happened to visit such websites locally might have seen the message. However, as already happens even locally, fair-play rules require internet service providers to allow you to connect any device you like to your internet connection, so that your provider can’t force you to use a specific type of WiFi router, or tell you which devices you can or can’t use as the idea of Internet of Things continues to gain ascendance in our everyday lives.

Instead of your data bundle catering for an internet connection that supports all your gadgets, you could end up having to manage multiple subscriptions. The ISP could charge you for each computer, tablet, or IoT gadget you connect to the web. This is a very likely scenario.

For now, it remains to be seen how it plays out against the US Federal Communications Commission’s plan. Efforts are already under way for the US Congress or the courts to intervene.

The courts have previously rejected two earlier FCC attempts to negatively craft net neutrality rules, and by the same token reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II provisions.

Title II defines services under utility regulations similar to the unfettered citizen rights to water or roads.

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