Net Neutrality and the path ahead…

Ever feared that your privacy is intruded upon, Facebook wants to know everything about you or are you hooked on to Instagram?

Do you fear that your bare essentials today – Wi-Fi, Whatsapp and social networks may impose a dictatorship on the world?

Welcome to the world of the tech-giants and their addictive “soft”wares.

Net Neutrality is the principle which makes Internet Service Providers (ISPs) mandatory to treat data equally irrespective of the user, content, website, application or platform. This enables netizens to access every bit of the internet uniformly, without extra charges. Net Neutrality is the right to communicate without any barriers, meaning that internet service providers must treat all data around the internet as neutral, and not discriminate or charge extra for a particular website, internet platform or application. Simply put, all data is neutral in the eyes of the data providers and they cannot charge extra for particular services.

The Origin

The term network neutrality was coined by the Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems.

Your ability to access a website depends on your desire to access the website and not the deals that the intermediaries have made with each other.

-Cindy Cohn.

It is the idea that all Internet service providers should keep web traffic equally open to all and to not play favourites with different websites and applications.

The Topolski Case

Robb Topolski, a computer expert moonlighting as a quartet singer noticed that his songs were not distributable using BitTorrent, a file-sharing application. On investigating, he found out that Comcast, his ISP is blocking file transfers using reset packets.

This was the beginning of the war against repealing net neutrality as the FCC ruled against Comcast and had ordered them to disclose their throttling practices to the customers and to stop discriminating against BitTorrent traffic.

Why the Hype Now?

Quite recently, in the USA, several members of the Federal Communications Committee, or FCC, have proposed to repeal net neutrality, with the chairman Ajit Vardaraj Pai leading them. On December 14, 2017, the FCC’s Republican majority approved of Pai’s proposal of repealing net neutrality, causing widespread outrage not only in the USA but also all around the world.

This approval is as good as granting the famous the ability to crush the small fish. There will be no competition between David and Goliath. In fact, there will be no David at all!

What’s more, you will lose quality content from budding artists looking to make a mark on the new leaderboard, The World Wide Web.

The Effect

Without net neutrality, major telecom companies will have the reins of the internet and can alter the access speeds of platforms according to their norms. It is similar to your phone company will control whom you call and whom you don’t, or your power supply company restricting power consumption on certain appliances. If net neutrality is repealed, even if only in America, it could have drastic effects on other countries as well.

This will make the internet providers, the kings of their own networks. They will be able to control, stop or charge for data access of selected users, websites or applications. Imagine having to select from a variety of internet content packs – the basic pack giving you access only basic websites such as Google and Wikipedia, the social pack allowing you to access Facebook, Twitter etc while the unlimited pack allowing you access to all websites.

The Opposition

When the results were published, in an hour, state attorneys of Washington and New York announced that they are suing the FCC over its decision. California, Illinois, Oregon, Massachusetts, Iowa, Kentucky, Washington DC, New Mexico and many attorney generals from different states joined the multi-state lawsuit.

Netizens decided to take matters into their own hands. Posts, videos and memes started trolling the FCC. Many pages on Facebook called Ajit Pai as “the most horrible smile on the internet”.

Confess your feelings before net neutrality ends”, created great wit and shame over the FCC. Memes tried to roast FCC and Ajit Pai to their fullest. YouTubers and Reddit started campaigns to save their rights.

The T.R.A.I. Ruling

India had already fought its battle for the internet during the years, 2015 and 2016. In 2015, over a million emails were sent to T.R.A.I. or the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, as a protest from the denizens. The Free Basics program of Facebook was also seen as a violation of the principles of net neutrality, as it allowed free access to a lot of sites collaborating with telecom companies.

Here are some important points based on T.R.A.I.’s order:

  • No service provider can offer or charge any discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.
  • No service provider shall enter into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that the effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services being offered or charged by the services being offered or charged by ISP for purpose of evading prohibition of this regulation.
  • Reduced tariff for accessing and providing emergency services or at times of public emergency has been permitted.
The Revival

If Net Neutrality is really needed it must be brought back via legal actions and people’s protests. People will surely bring it back when required.The Internet is an open platform and should not be misused by the ISPs (Internet service providers) to obscure content and make the public pay for favoured sites.

The internet must be kept as neutral as possible, and its access must not be priced differently across different parts of the world.

Thus, let us join together, to Save The Internet.

Article by Edward Cullen, Flame Alchemist Roy Mustang and VPDI

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