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What Net Neutrality is about: a simple explanation


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(By Nikhil Pahwa & Vikas SN)

Net Neutrality is a terrible, technical sounding phrase, and suffers for the lack of an easy definition. Here’s how we look at it:

Telecom operators/ISPs are access services providers, and can control either how much you access, what you access, how fast you access and how much you pay to access content and services on the Internet.

It’s important for access to knowledge, services and free speech, as well as freedom and ease of doing business online, for this access to be neutral:

– All sites must be equally accessible
– The same access speed at the telco/ISP level for each (independent of telco selection)
– The same data cost for access to each site (per KB/MB).

This means, Net Neutrality is about:
– No telecom-style licensing of Internet companies (see this and this)
– No gateways (Internet.org, Airtel OneTouch Internet, Data VAS), censorship or selection;
– No speeding up of specific websites (that may or may not pay telcos)
– No “zero rating” or making some sites free over others (and that goes for you too, Wikipedia and twitter).

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Yesterday, US President Barack Obama came in support of Net Neutrality, urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality and ensure that “neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online”.

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He added – “We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas”. Some of the rules suggested by Obama include:

No blocking: If a consumer requests access to a website or a service, ISPs should not be permitted to block it, enabling every player “gets a fair shot at your business.”

No throttling: ISPs should not intentionally slow down some content or speed up others based on the type of service or their preferences.

– Increased transparency:  The connection between consumers and ISPs is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. Hence, if necessary, FCC should apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.

– No paid prioritization: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. Obama asked for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

Obama mentioned that FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, due to the increasing adoption of mobile devices to access the Internet. He also asked FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service as a public utility –

“The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.”

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  • madhulika

    I keep reading about how now ISPs (if not for net neutrality) will have the power to block illegal content (or any content for that matter). I don’t see how the status quo is any different. Don’t the ISPs do all of this already?