What is net neutrality? The open internet explained

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you’ve probably come across the term “net neutrality.” The concept has been the subject of debate among lawmakers around the world for the past decade, but what is it all about?

Read on to find out all about net neutrality, including what it is, the loudest arguments for and against and, most importantly, what the stance is in the UK right now?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all users on the Internet, from individuals to mega-corporations, deserve equal access to the same network performance and content without paying more for the privilege.

That includes both unfettered data rates and any legal content you might want to access.

“Net neutrality, also known as ‘open internet’, is the principle that determines what you see and do online, not the broadband provider that connects you to the internet,” is Ofcom’s definition.

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Those in favor of net neutrality want the internet to be legally viewed as a utility, much like water or electricity. They view the web as a service that every citizen is entitled to and something that should not be modified or restricted by those who provide it.

Opponents of net neutrality insist that companies that require and use higher bandwidths, such as Google or Disney Plus, should be charged for the extra demand they put on their Internet Service Provider (ISP) infrastructure.

The argument for net neutrality

There are good arguments for and against net neutrality. Those in favor of net neutrality include Internet content providers and consumer advocates, while ISPs and economists tend to sit on the other side of the fence.

On the side of net neutrality is the concept that the internet is built on the idea of ​​free and equal distribution of knowledge and any attempt to control or restrict your service would contradict that.

Losing net neutrality would give ISPs the power to choose which websites and companies get access to the best performance. They could even slow down the performance of specific sites based on payments from direct rivals, manipulating traffic in a certain direction.

Prioritizing and blocking websites and content based on how much one can pay would generally favor the rich and powerful, making net neutrality a clear anticompetitive problem and leaving smaller start-ups with little room to get their foot in the door .

The argument against net neutrality

There is also a valid argument on the side against net neutrality, both for ISPs and in the case of ordinary consumers.

The argument against net neutrality is that those who derive the most benefit and financial gain from the Internet, such as Meta or Netflix, should be required to pay more than us regular users for the privilege.

These companies take up a significant portion of an ISP’s bandwidth, so the argument is that they should pay more for the additional demand they put on that provider’s infrastructure.

The money they pay could then be used to improve internet services for the rest of us (although that would be in the hands of the ISP itself).

Net neutrality in the UK

Currently, ISPs in the UK are required by law to follow specific rules to ensure that they treat all internet traffic on their networks equally and do not favor specific websites or services.

The following rules are enforced by Ofcom:

  • Your provider may not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against Internet traffic on its network, unless necessary for legal, security, or emergency reasons.
  • Your provider may not manage its internet traffic to gain a commercial advantage – for example, it may not redirect you from a website to a website it is affiliated with, or slow down the services of competing organizations.
  • Your provider can take reasonable steps to manage its Internet traffic so that its network runs smoothly. But these measures should not be taken longer than necessary. Your provider should be absolutely clear about its traffic management policies and practices.

That said, each ISP will have its own approach to net neutrality, which is required by law to expand into your contract.

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