Net Neutrality: An Overview


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Each time a buffer pops up while playing a favourite video or each time that hopping dinosaur pops up in your chrome browser, with a message that the webpage took so much time to respond, you and I have a question of net neutrality to address. Net neutrality has been a rage in the last few years, especially since 2014 when big companies like Netflix and Facebook actively campaigned for net neutrality. 

Understanding Internet Services

Internet, since its beginning during the 1960s and with the invention of world wide web by Tim Berners Lee, has become an Integral part of our life to such an extent that we have a diagnosis for disorders based on the internet.  The internet is provided to us by huge companies called internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast, and BSNL. These companies use bandwidths to transmit internet signals and allow services from website and applications. 

Though it is a complicated process in detail, to understand it better, imagine the bandwidths to be roads. Under the normal conditions, both huge company services like Google and Facebook along with smaller services use the same road (Bandwidth), just like heavy traffic with big and small vehicles. However, building a separate highway for bigger companies like Facebook would reduce traffic and increase the overall speed of the internet. 

This separate bandwidth for large-scale users like Google, Facebook, etc provides a separate, faster bandwidth for these companies and their services, but at a higher cost for these companies. This means that the company has to pay more for higher speed of internet. This expense might, in turn, be levied from the consumers which result in us paying more to browse our favourite websites. In such a scenario the Internet service providers decide which all companies will get faster bandwidth and decide the entire traffic.

The necessity of net neutrality 

This power of the internet service providers, in turn, lets these big monopolies shape and decide what the consumers of the internet should watch and experience. This might lead to corruption. This might also lead to situations where the Internet service providers favour certain sites or block certain sites from accessing the faster bandwidth. Hence the number of competitors for big companies that access the faster bandwidth tend to decline, which affects the quality of services they provide. 

This is when net neutrality becomes important. Net neutrality is a campaign originated primarily in the US, where there is a demand for a condition where irrespective of the internet usage all companies can pay the same amount to the Internet service provider. For example, loading a webpage like this one would take much less internet than loading a YouTube video or scrolling through Facebook for instance. However, with net neutrality, companies like Facebook as well as small web resource providers will have to pay the same amount to the Internet service providers.
This has a detrimental effect on internet service providers as they will not be able to gain much profit. Also, it might end up affecting smaller companies while it is beneficial for larger companies as at the same cost larger companies occupy a larger share of the bandwidth. 

Roots of net neutrality 

A demand for net neutrality may seem to many as subtle propaganda of the huge companies like Google and Facebook to avoid paying extra for the higher bandwidth usage. Also, it indicates how much we are dependent on services like Facebook, Netflix, and Google. We cannot afford a buffer or a lower quality of internet services from these companies not merely because we feel addicted to them, but we feel that the internet is an entitlement for us. We believe in and presume a right to it.

Net neutrality: national and international interest 

Net neutrality was a heated topic in US parliament and the white house till very recently.  Such national and international interest in making internet services more relaxed is in one way affirming the fact that internet is an inevitable part of our lives and that it would be an integral part of our individual and collective futures. Government interference in the net neutrality issue indicates the potential of the internet and free access to it can literally boost further development in developed nations.

However, it is questionable as to if it would work in developing nations like India. In India, the debates surrounding net neutrality accelerated once Airtel started charging extra for voice calls through Whatsapp and similar applications, back in 2014. Even when the US-based FCC scrapped the net neutrality bill in 2017, in India net neutrality was backed up by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. 

One major factor that evokes the potential of the internet as a powerful tool to induce development is digital literacy. However, in India digital literacy is low and despite the advent of smartphones, digital accessibility is also low. Under these circumstances, net neutrality might not bring a huge impact on the development in India immediately. However, net neutrality certainly brings with it wide opportunities that only the internet can promise. It provides access to bandwidths which enables the establishment of online careers, portals start-ups, and entrepreneurship.

Net neutrality is still a vaguely understood and highly debated concept across the globe. It lies between freedom and right to use of the internet and the subtle influence exerted by huge and influential names on the internet. But as a consumer and most importantly as a consumer from a developing nation, net neutrality opens up a plethora of opportunities, ranging from education and entertainment to employment and entrepreneurship and is quite important.

- Ananda Krishnan 


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Net Neutrality: An Overview Net Neutrality: An Overview Reviewed by EMN on May 04, 2019 Rating: 5

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