You may have seen the news coverage or maybe you saw the front page of Reddit yesterday. Americans are fighting hard to save net neutrality. We wanted to take a moment to explain why net neutrality is important, and how the goings on may effect the UK down the line.
What is Net Neutrality?
From Wikipedia: “Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs), and governments regulating most of the Internet must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.”
In other words everything is equal on the Internet. Net Neutrality ensures data equality in a sense.
Without net neutrality, ISPs could block, slow down or charge for certain content on the web. For example, Verizon Wireless has been accused of slowing down Netflix and YouTube speeds, while no other sites were effected, and Comcast was also accused of purposely blocking P2P networks back in 2009.
Without net neutrality, ISPs could act as gatekeepers to information, allowing them to control which websites load quickly, which load slowly and which do not load at all. And this is before we get into charges to the consumer. This would allow ISPs a huge amount of power over content.
Are your alarm bells ringing yet?
What is the situation for Net Neutrality in Europe?
In 2015/2016, Europe had a similar net neutrality fight. In the end, thankfully, net neutrality was strengthened and protected in the EU, and has been lauded as a triumph in European digital rights. It would be incredibly difficult for net neutrality to be rolled back in the EU.
In a published open letter calling on European regulators to “save the open internet.” signers stated:
“Strong guidelines will protect the future of competition, innovation, and creative expression in Europe, enhancing Europe’s ability to lead in the digital economy,” the letter said. “They will ensure that every European, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their wallets, has an equal chance to innovate, compete, speak, organise, and connect online.”
So, “we’re fine, what’s the big deal”?
Yes and no. There are a few examples where net neutrality doesn’t exist, and we can see what ISPs have done. Portugal and New Zealand have bundling already, and the UK, where there is some net neutrality, ISPs have been experimenting with bundling. This effectively creates a “two speed Internet” – the haves and haves not if you will. Depending on the tier you pay for you, you will get certain bandwidth, or specific sites – for a price of course.
So for the moment, in the UK, EU net neutrality rules apply. However, with Brexit, those rules can be amended or even rolled back. Observers are concerned about some of the long term impacts of bundling experiments in the UK, stating that while in the short term they may seem like good deals for consumers, (notwithstanding having to pay for something that was once free) they can stifle competition.
What does it mean for arts organisations?
Did you know that a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions? Page loading speed can hugely impact your revenues. If ISPs relegate certain websites to the “slow lane” – and your site happens to be in that category – that will impact your organisation for certain.
So while the net neutrality fight is won for now in the EU, for the UK, it is something we all need to keep a close eye on.