What is net neutrality and how could it affect the telecoms industry?

What is net neutrality (network neutrality)?

Net neutrality is the principle that all ISP’s (internet service providers) including telecommunication companies and wireless network providers, should all treat their internet traffic equally. It means that an ISP should not be authorised to block, minimise or degrade access to any websites or services that they choose, nor should they be allowed to ‘speed up’ or allow favoured access for one set of content over another.

What is the argument for net neutrality?

When a company, organisation or individual wants to launch a website, they don’t have to request permission from each internet service provider to add the site to their network, nor do they need to pay any fees to those companies to guarantee that their new website will work just as well as any other. Instead, once it has been created it is automatically available from any internet-connected device, anywhere in the world.

That is the core principle of net neutrality.

Those that are supporters of net neutrality argue that all the innovation online that has been created over the last few decades has relied on this principle. They fear that without this, new ideas and innovations would become limited. If large ISP’s start charging additional fees based on the type of content that a website plans to provide (for example more cost for video streaming that image content), then it will become a much less attractive proposition for the next generation of ‘You-Tubes’ and ‘Facebooks’.

A particularly serious concern for supporters of net neutrality, is that broadband providers could intentionally throttle new services that represent a competitive threat to the providers services and products. For example, if a telecommunications company reduced services to a service like Skype or Whatsapp that competes with traditional fixed-line services.

What is the argument against net neutrality?

There is no denying that users would benefit from some services having significantly better data speeds than others. For example, online gaming and internet voice calling requires quick data transfers to allow for a seamless experience, whereas browsing standard websites wouldn’t require so many resources. Without net neutrality, users could pay for specific services to ensure that a tailored package gave them all the benefits they required without paying over the odds for services they are never going to use.

Strict net neutrality laws could stop ISP’s from delivering this kind of freedom to users.

Another concern is that investment in telecommunications network infrastructure could slow down as a result of net neutrality. That’s because, if network providers aren’t able to make as much profit from their user data usage, then the cost of laying new infrastructure may not balance against profitability.

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