Will net neutrality vote affect the UK and other countries?
TL;DR: No, not right now.
Just to be clear, Thursday’s vote to end net neutrality is restricted to America. However, it’s still bad news for the UK and other countries. Let me explain.
Officials put an end to a free and open world wide web, essentially paving the way for internet providers to create fast and slow lanes online and charge websites like Facebook and Netflix for getting their content to us with the best possible quality.
It could, eventually, mean internet providers charge us more money for the privilege.
The vote set a dangerous precedent because if other countries like the UK see success with ramming a business model into the web, then they too could take it on board.
But rest assured that any change would be years in the making. Americans won’t see the full impact of this decision for months to come.
What is net neutrality?
Think of internet providers (the suits call them ISPs) as the guys who build highways for the world wide web.
Firms like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T offer the infrastructure that allows us to stream websites and apps like Google and Netflix straight to our home.
We’ve paid for the access and the content is delivered at a good speed. That, in a nutshell, is net neutrality.
Donald Trump’s administration wanted to dismantle the rule — which was solidified by Barack Obama in 2015.
Net neutrality has gone — what now?
Without net neutrality, internet providers can build fast and slow lanes on these highways. They can then use this to throttle websites and apps, essentially creating a pay-to-play arena whereby they must cough up to have their content delivered at the same quality it is now.
How will it affect me?
It’s hard to say, because the process would be slow. A worst case scenario is that internet providers end up offering access like a phone bundle — pay more, get better, faster access to the shows you love on Netflix, for example.
There’s also a fear that ISPs might start favoring their own content over much of the mainstream providers we use today.
But — more alarmingly — they would have the power to block and restrict access to websites and apps of their choosing.
However, industry experts say this is unlikely to happen because internet providers’ end goal is to offer the best service possible. Shutting off Facebook would do nothing to help them.
It’s worth noting that moves like this can’t happen willy-nilly. Such bold actions would face consultation and scrutiny by government-run regulators like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission.
What are the FCC and the FTC?
The FCC is the key player behind this change to net neutrality.
The regulator was set up by the government in 1934.
It’s one goal is to ensure consumers have fair and reasonable access to the way we get our communication, so TV, telephone and — recently — internet.
The commission is best known in America for its role as a media censor. People complain to the FCC about nudity they see on TV, for example, and the commission reacts appropriately. The FCC has authority over what frequencies radio stations or Wi-Fi routers should use.
The FCC is not to be confused with the FTC, a separate regulatory body with an aim of preventing anti-competitive, deceptive and unfair business practices.
Why does the FCC want to get rid of net neutrality?
The move to make net neutrality disappear isn’t new. FCC chairman Ajit Pai revealed his plans to scrap it shortly after Trump took office earlier this year. It’s only gained attention now because of the impending vote and countless campaigns from people against losing it.
Pai is in favor of a free internet. He believes it should not be overseen by Washington.
He said in a recent interview: ‘The Internet shouldn’t be governed like a water company, or an electric company, or a slow-moving subway system. It should be free to innovate. And that’s what we are going to do moving forward.’
Pai believes that dismantling net neutrality will breed heavier competition among the internet marketplace and help it grow. The big firms agree, of course.
But there are rumblings of a deeper reason for trashing the rule.
Right now, firms like Google and Facebook have a guarded monopoly — the majority of content we see everyday online is provided by them. Undoing net neutrality throws a huge spanner in the works for Silicon Valley as it would suddenly have a ton of competition.
More importantly, it could change the way we consume news. There’s nothing to stop internet providers making your browser home page a news feed brought you to and created by Verizon, for instance.
Why do others want to keep net neutrality?
Scrapping it changes the online landscape dramatically. Suddenly, big corporations would have a say in what sort of content we see and how we access it.
Without net neutrality, startups might struggle to take off online if they’re being muscled out by huge websites and apps that can afford to play the game.
Big players like Reddit and Netflix are against Pai’s vision. They believe, quite simply, that the internet should be a free and open space where ideas can thrive without governing and control by big corporations.
A spokesperson for Battle for the Net said: ‘Cable companies are famous for high prices and poor service. Several rank as the most hated companies in America.
Now, they’re lobbying the FCC and Congress to end net neutrality. Why? It’s simple: if they win the power to slow sites down, they can bully any site into paying millions to escape the “slow lane”. ‘This would amount to a tax on every sector of the American economy. Every site would cost more, since they’d all have to pay big cable. Worse, it would extinguish the startups and independent voices who can’t afford to pay. If we lose net neutrality, the Internet will never be the same.’
Does it affect countries outside of the US?
The short answer is no.
However, getting rid of net neutrality creates a dangerous precedent which could pave the way for other countries to adopt the same blueprint if they see America’s online business model booming and the economy is reaping the rewards.
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