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Net Neutrality: What is it and should we be concerned?

Over the last couple of days, a debate about net neutrality has exploded over the internet. Without net neutrality, Internet Service Providers could charge you to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, video streaming sites like YouTube and Netflix, and any other sites that they want.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a policy which declares that all internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all of the data they provide to their customers equally. It forbids them to block, slow or have any preference for any data or website.

Why is everyone talking about it? 

This policy was introduced in the US in 1934 under Title II of the Communications Act of that year, which was also the point of creation of the FCC  (Federal Communications Commission), responsible for monitoring this policy. During his presidency, Obama administration created the Open Internet Order which upheld this principle of net neutrality as a priority. However, the FCC has voted three to two to review the way in which net neutrality is maintained. The main way in which they seek to do this is by reversing ISPs status as telecommunication companies and allowing these providers to block, slow, or offer preferential treatment to particular sites as long as this is disclosed to customers.  

Who would this effect?

This would mostly affect the customer, as they are used to having equal access to anything they want on the internet. This change in regulation would mean you would have to pay for services that were once free, and it would change the way we consume the internet as you would be directed mainly to the providers favoured sites. This poses a problem for services such as the news as customers would be directed towards one news outlet which is dangerous as customers could be subject to bias news stories, unable to read a wide range of perspectives.

Also, this is a real shame for SMEs because they will struggle even more to be noticed if there are restrictions on who can view their content. Even on sites such as Facebook, which may be restricted under the new regulations, they will lose out as social media is one of the main ways to reach new business in the modern world.

Will we be affected in the UK?

In short, the answer is no, at least not directly. The UK has a net neutrality policy in place under EU regulations, which is still something to keep in mind during Brexit as it will be a decision that has to be made. Moreover, if other countries see that this change for the US proves successful and has a positive impact on their economy, it may be something they would want to consider. At the moment, UK ISPs are much more competitive than those of the US so this is not something that is immediately necessary for this country, but it is always good to be aware of this debate and the impact it would have as we witness Brexit talks and the decisions that are made. 

What do you think about net neutrality? This is a really interesting debate and we would love to hear your thoughts, do you think that maybe a bit of competition between ISPs is a good thing as long as the customer is informed? Or do you think the internet should always remain free and uncensored? Let us know!


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