Net neutrality may be dead in the US, but not in Eu­rope

Abro­ga­tion de la neu­tra­li­té du Net aux Etats-Unis.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito | Sommaire - SALEEM BHATTI

Le 14 décembre der­nier, suite au vote de la Com­mis­sion fé­dé­rale des com­mu­ni­ca­tions, les Etats-Unis abro­geaient la neu­tra­li­té du Net. En 2015, le pays avait pour­tant of­fi­cia­li­sé ce prin­cipe, ga­ran­tis­sant l’éga­li­té de trai­te­ment des flux de don­nées par les opé­ra­teurs de té­lé­com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Quels sont les en­jeux de cette abro­ga­tion à l’échelle mon­diale ?

The be­lief that un­res­tric­ted in­ter­net ac­cess is vi­tal to mo­dern life is not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly a view held by all bu­si­nesses that pro­vide in­ter­net services. And now that net neutrality – the equal treat­ment of all da­ta sent and re­cei­ved wi­thout dif­fe­ren­tial charges and ser­vice qua­li­ty – has come to an end in the US, how will this af­fect the rest of the world? 2. The idea that all in­ter­net ser­vice pro­vi­ders (ISPs) treat all da­ta and users equal­ly is, in theo­ry, the best deal for cus­to­mers as well as for bu­si­nesses. Net neutrality al­lows bu­si­nesses to com­pete on ser­vice qua­li­ty, and pro­vides users with a choice across the range of all pro­vi­ders.

3. But on 14 De­cem­ber 2017, the US Fe­de­ral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (FCC) ef­fec­ti­ve­ly re­ne­ged on its own 2015 Open In­ter­net Or­der, which was de­vi­sed to al­low open and fair ac­cess to the in­ter­net. This de­ci­sion was made even though users and ma­ny tech­no­lo­gy com­pa­nies and content pro­vi­ders such as Google, Fa­ce­book and Net­flix re­mai­ned stron­gly in fa­vour of net neutrality.

There is concern that the FCC ru­ling in the US could pave the way for si­mi­lar moves in other coun­tries.

THE LOSS OF NET NEUTRALITY

4. At the time, pio­nee­ring in­ter­net tech ex­perts war­ned against re­mo­ving net neutrality rules, ef­fec­ti­ve­ly ac­cu­sing the FCC of not un­ders­tan­ding how the in­ter­net works. This ru­ling means that in the US, pro­vi­ders will be able to slow down da­ta traf­fic to and from cer­tain web­sites, give pre­fe­ren­tial treat­ment to other web­sites and charge dif­fe­rent­ly for dif­ferent types of content, such as web ac­cess, vi­deo strea­ming, social me­dia and so on.

5. With net neutrality gone, there are fears that some content, services and ap­pli­ca­tions may be com­ple­te­ly blo­cked by some ISPs. Not eve­ryone in the US has a wide choice of broad­band pro­vi­ders, so it is not ea­sy for some ci­ti­zens to “take their busi­ness el­sew­here” if they are not sa­tis­fied with their pro­vi­der. Among other things, sup­por­ters of net neutrality fear a loss of consu­mer pro­tec­tion. Ho­we­ver, sup­por­ters of the FCC ru­ling say that it could en­cou­rage ISPs to in­vest in new in­fra­struc­ture by al­lo­wing them more flexi­bi­li­ty in the services they of­fer. This could en­able im­pro­ved ac­cess for ma­ny, as well as in­crea­sed com­pe­ti­tion that would be­ne­fit users.

IM­PACT BEYOND THE US

6. So how does this de­ci­sion in the US af­fect the UK and conti­nen­tal Eu­rope? In the UK, net neutrality is cur­rent­ly pro­tec­ted by EU po­li­cy 20152120 in sup­port of a di­gi­tal single mar­ket – Brexit fal­lout aside. Po­ten­tial­ly, af­ter Brexit, the Go­vern­ment could choose to re­voke this po­li­cy, al­though this is un­li­ke­ly be­cause it has al­rea­dy com­mit­ted to a Universal Ser­vice Obli­ga­tion (USO), ef­fec­ti­ve­ly ma­king broad­band ac­cess a le­gal re­qui­re­ment, as it has been in Fin­land for ma­ny years.

7. Ad­di­tio­nal­ly, ISPs are held to ac­count by the UK com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­gu­la­tor OFCOM, which is tas­ked with en­su­ring fair play and pro­tec­ting consu­mers from poor ser­vice. There has been wi­des­pread cri­ti­cism that OFCOM has been slow and in­ef­fec­tive in per­sua­ding big players such as BT/Open­reach to act res­pon­si­bly in the past, though it has made pro­gress re­cent­ly. OFCOM al­so has pro­po­sals for pu­ni­tive fines for those who pro­vide poor ser­vice.

8. Even with the EU po­li­cy and OFCOM in place, ma­ny users in the UK and conti­nen­tal Eu­rope ex­pe­rience huge va­ria­tion in broad­band ac­cess speeds, qua­li­ty of con­nec­tion and cus­to­mer ser­vice. Ho­we­ver, cur­rent EU po­li­cy does prevent blo­cking and slow-down of any content, services and ap­pli­ca­tions. Now, hot on the heels of the FCC ru­ling, there are calls in the US for “no blo­cking, no slow-down” re­gu­la­tion to coun­ter the loss of net neutrality rules.

9. But there is concern that the FCC ru­ling in the US could pave the way for si­mi­lar moves in other coun­tries. The grea­test ne­ga­tive im­pact could be on those who are al­rea­dy di­gi­tal­ly im­po­ve­ri­shed, with poor ac­cess to know­ledge and in­for­ma­tion, or where go­vern­ments could im­pose ac­cess res­tric­tions more ea­si­ly.

TA­KING A LEAD FROM FIN­LAND

10. But while things look en­cou­ra­ging with the UK Go­vern­ment’s Fin­nish-style com­mit­ment to a Universal Ser­vice Obli­ga­tion, ac­cess speeds will need to keep in­crea­sing. While Fin­land’s ground­brea­king na­tio­nal USO was a great step for­ward, the re­qui­re­ment is for only a 2Mbps ser­vice. Most people would consi­der that in­ade­quate for mo­dern uses, es­pe­cial­ly for strea­ming vi­deo.

11. The UK’s USO aims for at least 10Mbps for all ci­ti­zens by 2020 which, consi­de­ring the cur­rent ave­rage UK in­ter­net speed is 16.51 Mbps, seems a bit pal­try. Of course, we shall have to wait and see how far the UK ac­tual­ly pro­gresses to­wards rol­ling out 10Mbps for the en­tire coun­try.

12. Gi­ven the de­mand for net neutrality among users, as well as sup­port from ma­ny tech­no­lo­gy com­pa­nies and content pro­vi­ders, there would seem to be a busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ty for ISPs to of­fer a net-neutrality ser­vice to at­tract cus­to­mers, as much as there might be to make deals with content pro­vi­ders.

THE GLO­BAL VIEW

13. In terms of glo­bal scope, the UN has re­co­gni­sed that in­ter­net ac­cess is a vi­tal en­abler for rea­li­sing its own Sus­tai­nable De­ve­lop­ment Goals, de­si­gned to ad­dress in­equa­li­ty and im­prove the eve­ry­day lives of mil­lions around the world. So, while the FCC ru­ling may be a blow for those wan­ting un­res­tric­ted ac­cess to the in­ter­net in the US, there is plen­ty of ac­ti­vi­ty world­wide which sup­ports users of open in­ter­net ac­cess.

14. But com­pla­cen­cy would be un­wise; it would be pre­fe­rable to have net neutrality sup­port from na­tio­nal go­vern­ments, and there are ma­ny parts of the world – the US and the UK in­clu­ded – where in­ter­net ac­cess could be im­pro­ved.

(Drew She­ne­man / Tri­bute News Ser­vice)

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