7 Mar 2018 01:25pm

Debate: is net neutrality a pipe dream in a capitalist world?

We asked a number of experts, professors, business groups and firms if the principle that ISPs treat data and users equally - net neutrality - is a pipe dream in a capitalist world

Caption: Image: Unisplash

Arian Attar

Policy fellow at Public Knowledge

“Net neutrality has existed in harmony with the capitalist world for more than 15 years. Historically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ensured that consumers have access to a fair and open internet. Public Knowledge believes the internet should always be an equal and open playing field, with no one entity superior over others. An open internet begets innovation; start-ups and small businesses, an integral part of our society and economy, require equal access to develop new ideas, technologies, and services. Not only did Internet Service Providers increase investment after the passage of the Open Internet Order, but start-ups thrived because they didn’t have to compete with big players by paying for fast lanes. Websites have been treated equally in the past and should be treated similarly in the future, even in a capitalist world.”

Marietje Schaake

Dutch MEP writing to the US Congress

“The FCC’s decision goes against everything we have fought for. We urge you to stay the course and ask you to overturn the regulations passed by the FCC.”

Ro Khanna

Congressman on Twitter

“What if we repealed financial regulations because the large banks promised that they wouldn’t engage in the risky behaviour that caused the financial crisis? That is like what the FCC did.”

Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University, credited with coining “net neutrality” in 2003

“You may dislike some of what has come out of the internet boom — there’s been a lot of craziness. But there is something fundamental about the ability to reach people... that is guaranteed by net neutrality."

Javier Pallero

Latin America policy lead at Access Now

“Net neutrality is a key principle to keep the internet free and open. Despite its many interpretations, the core of the concept consists of a rule against arbitrary discrimination in communications. This includes the possibility of using any protocol, service, application or device, without the need for permission from network operators.

“It is true that technologies such as the Internet of Things and the growing use of video streaming can put stress on the networks. But the solution should come from permanent investment in network capacity and on technology research. Traffic management measures should only be applied when they are limited in time and scope. Such measures should also be transparent and non-discriminatory.

“Net neutrality allows everybody to enjoy the reach, scalability, and agility that the internet enables, and is consequently an important tool for human development and free expression.”

Letter from Foundation, a collection of women’s rights groups, to the FCC

“We need an open internet so we can organise and connect for political action and civic engagement; access vital news and information that is not available in the mainstream, corporate media,
and ensure women-led small businesses, creative endeavours, and innovations can flourish.”

Timothy Karr

Senior director of strategy at Free Press

“You expect to connect to any website, service or person that is also online. You expect the company that provides you with a connection won’t interfere with your ability to access the content you choose. You expect to be in control of your experience.

“The principle that protects these expectations is called net neutrality: the First Amendment of the internet. The internet without net neutrality isn’t really the internet. Absent net neutrality protections, and companies that connect you to the web can decide which websites and applications succeed, and which messages get through.

“It will be devastating for vulnerable communities that traditional media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. They rely on the open internet to organise, access economic and educational opportunities, and defend their rights.”

Kamala Harris

California senator on Twitter

“Keeping the internet free and open is paramount to ensuring the gatekeepers of the internet can’t tilt the competitive playing field. One website should not be prioritised over its competitor.”

Mark A Jamison

Director and professor, Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida

“Net neutrality as a regulatory policy is an idea whose time has passed, if it ever came at all. One of the fundamental challenges to net neutrality is that it became a rallying cry for a hodgepodge of ideas that continually grew in scope, so much so that the Obama Federal Communications Commission in 2015 couldn’t define what it really wanted to restrict.

“And the regulatory restrictions worked against the very people they were supposed to benefit: internet entrepreneurs benefit from a non-neutral internet; the regulations appeared to suppress broadband investment; and the restrictions made services to disadvantaged persons more costly to provide.

“Finally, technology is moving beyond net neutrality: the new generation of wireless technologies have hardwired treating different types of content differently; large content providers are bypassing the public internet; and apps, which are inherently not neutral, are growing in importance.”

Andrew Glover

Chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association

“UK ISPs clearly demonstrate that net neutrality is not a pipe dream. For a long time, UK providers have committed themselves to preserving net neutrality through a voluntary code. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has further assessed the compliance of UK ISPs with tough EU rules finding that ‘there are no major concerns regarding the openness of the internet in the UK’.

“Despite this commitment and EU rules, UK ISPs have consistently increased the speeds that are available to consumers and businesses and we believe that with the move towards ever faster networks (5G and fibre), bandwidth concerns could become a thing of the past. That said, there is a need to ensure that our communications networks can support the specialised services that power smart cities, connected cars and other advanced technologies. Our members run innovative and successful businesses and remain committed to preserving the open internet.”