Net neutrality laws need to be strengthened worldwide
From a non-issue for most people, net neutrality has become a hot topic all over the world, including India, over the past year. Despite the growing importance of the subject, there is still no real consensus on what it means. A simple explanation of net neutrality is that it means all data is treated equally – no one has priority in terms of speed or cost of access. This may sound simple enough, but for a number of reasons that has not happened, to the point where laws have been put in place all over the world.
When you look at the most active regions online – the United States, Europe, India and China – you see that there are not always laws in place, or where laws exist, loopholes are already present and are also being used. . Here’s a look at what the scenario looks like, worldwide.
The United States was one of the first countries where net neutrality became the center of a huge debate. The issue really came to the fore when it was revealed that internet providers such as Verizon had asked Netflix to pay extra to stream his video. Suddenly, net neutrality was no longer just an academic concept – it spoke directly to how people used the internet.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received 3.7 million comments on net neutrality and in 2015 issued what it called the Open Internet Order.
The FCC rules were pretty simple. ISPs were not allowed to block or throttle (slow down access to) any form of content, or create paid tiering of content. These are hard and fast rules, but about zero rate – i.e. access to data that the content owner pays for instead of the user – he chose to decide on a case-by-case basis. .
This flaw appears to have been widely exploited in America, considering the offerings of some of its largest internet service providers. T-Mobile, for example, has two programs, Music Freedom and Binge ON, which respectively allow you to listen to music and watch videos, without the consumption being deducted from your monthly data allowance.
Music companies and video providers can partner with T-Mobile to be part of these services, and according to T-Mobile, there’s no charge — providers just have to comply with its technical requirements.
Verizon, on the other hand, offers a service called FreeBee Data – a paid zero rating platform that businesses can use. Unlike Music Freedom or Binge ON, where it can be argued that the platforms are open to all users, in the case of FreeBee, it’s clear that companies with deep pockets will have an unfair advantage.
The problem is compounded in the case of Comcast and AT&T. The former exempted its Stream TV video-on-demand platform from counting against your data caps, and AT&T recently acquired DirecTV and is exploring an OTT offering. It doesn’t take much insight to realize that this will likely be exempt from data caps as well.
Whether all of these violate net neutrality is debatable, but the last two certainly appear that way. So far, however, the US FCC has done nothing about it.
If Netflix has been driving the net neutrality debate in America, Facebook can take credit for it in India. Facebook’s Internet.org, which was later rebranded as Free Basics, sparked a huge debate about net neutrality in India.
Before Facebook, Airtel had already gotten the ball rolling, with a controversial plan to charge extra for Skype calls and then a zero-rate program to launch with Flipkart, both of which were canceled in short order.
After much public debate, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has released its net neutrality rules for India.
In February, Trai published new regulations titled “Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffriffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016”, in which it rejected differential pricing, whether charging extra for certain types of content or zero-rating data access.
Trai’s decision was almost universally welcomed, although some expressed concern that it allowed internet service providers to zero-rate access to content delivered via intranets. This is exactly what most ISPs seem to be focusing on right now – for example, Airtel is seeking permission to sign a commercial deal with an international video content provider, to deliver content to a closed network. This would allow it to send video content without charging for data usage, while adhering to Trai’s rules.
Likewise, all of Reliance Jio’s multimedia applications appear to be on intranets, exclusively available to Reliance Jio customers. A source close to the company said data used by Reliance Jio apps would be zero-rated.
Trai said any attempt to explicitly circumvent net neutrality rules will be penalized, but as has been observed in America, a case-by-case review doesn’t always work. Will it be the same for India? It seems possible at the moment.
So far, you might think things aren’t so bad. US and Indian laws seem to cover most areas with only a few gaps. On the other hand, Europe has rules that openly kill net neutrality. Zero rate is completely legal, and that’s not all, ISPs can also bundle applications on dedicated Internet lanes. So, for example, video calls might benefit from a fast lane, while a torrent client might be limited to lower speeds. This was debated but the European Parliament rejected the amendments which sought to protect net neutrality.
Europe’s net neutrality rules have many exceptions and some are vaguely named, although European telecom operators would like you to believe otherwise.
Although China has one of the largest internet populations in the world, net neutrality seems a bit of a vain hope in a country that also has widespread internet censorship.
The closed nature of the internet has helped create multi-billion companies in China, namely Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, but one has to wonder if net neutrality would actually help these companies today. Few of these companies have been able to compete on a global scale, although there are obvious exceptions such as WeChat (in instant messaging) or DJI (in drones). It’s hard to say, but it’s possible that for other Chinese companies, having a free and open internet could have been a major downside, which Foxconn CEO Terry Gou also suggested during a visit. in India.
What becomes apparent when you see the situation around the world is that while most would agree on the importance of net neutrality, the laws in place are not as strict as some would like, and companies are proving capable of circumventing them, throughout the world. If net neutrality is to be taken seriously, it seems the laws need to be strengthened.
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