Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageNet neutrality: Battles are being won, but the war's still raging

By James Walker     Nov 18, 2016 in Technology
Net neutrality has been a key topic this year. Breakthroughs have been made in the U.S. and EU that help to safeguard the Internet's neutrality but there are ongoing concerns. In this article, we'll look at net neutrality in the U.S., EU and Canada.
Net Neutrality — Keeping the Internet open
Before diving into the state of net neutrality legislation, it helps to be sure of what "net neutrality" actually means. Simply put, it's the idea that all data flowing across the Internet should be treated equally, regardless of its content.
In recent years, some providers have begun to break this premise. The rise of streaming services such as Netflix has led ISPs in regions worldwide to implement Internet "fast lanes." These prioritise demanding sites to keep playback smooth. It can be likened to turning one lane of a busy road into a bus route. A certain kind of traffic runs without any hold-ups but the other road users could end up travelling more slowly.
Supporters of net neutrality argue that allowing one company's service to be delivered faster than another's stifles competition. It could hinder innovation, preventing startups from getting established. Nations around the world have implemented their own measures to protect net neutrality with varying degrees of success.
The United States
In February 2015, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted in favour of net neutrality legislation preventing service providers from prioritising certain protocols above others. The debate over the issue was fuelled by millions of citizens expressing their opinion, the views of tech companies and the opposition from the internet providers.
The rule reclassified broadband access as a telecommunications service. This means broadband is subject to Title II, the common carrier rule, of the Communications Act of 1934, effectively forcing ISPs to honour the current neutral status of the web. The ruling became law on June 12, 2015, but threatened to be undermined by lawsuits against the FCC.
President Barack Obama addresses citizens at a town hall meeting in Santa Monica  California  Octobe...
President Barack Obama addresses citizens at a town hall meeting in Santa Monica, California, October 9, 2014
White House
The United States Telecom Association, representing the largest internet providers in the U.S., argued that the FCC had extended its remit by reclassifying broadband providers as "common carriers." The case led to a legal battle between the FCC and the telecoms industry that culminated in June 2016.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia upheld the FCC's original ruling, sending a strong message that attempts to prioritise internet traffic would not be tolerated.
People using smartphones.
People using smartphones.
David van der Mar
"Today's ruling is a victory for the open, fair and free Internet as we know it today — one that remains open to innovation and economic growth, without service providers serving as paid gatekeepers," U.S. President Barack Obama wrote on the White House's website.
"It's also a victory for the millions of Americans who made their voices heard in support of a free and fair Internet, with countless others speaking out on social media, petitioning their government, and standing up for what they believe."
As it stands, net neutrality in the U.S. is currently preserved. Members of the telecom industry have pledged to appeal the Court of Appeals' ruling though, escalating the case to the Supreme Court. The Internet in the U.S. may be neutral for now but control could still be returned to the service providers.
Canada
Net neutrality in Canada is still a debated issue. Canada's Internet is currently less neutral than in the EU or U.S. Some major internet service providers are known to throttle certain protocols, although this practice is not followed by every company.
The CRTC, Canada's Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, last updated its net neutrality laws in 2009. Several providers continue to preferentially treat services, including a case in which an Xplornet customer found the Google Play Store was throttled but Apple's App Store was not.
Maple leaf elements  Canada Day celebrations at Waterfront Park  North Vancouver  Canada.
Maple leaf elements, Canada Day celebrations at Waterfront Park, North Vancouver, Canada.
Xplornet, a satellite Internet provider, did not take action until the customer filed a complaint with the CRTC. The CRTC forced an investigation and Xplornet pledged to fix the fault. The CRTC took no further action, administering no penalty on the provider.
Canada's relaxed approach to legislation has repetitively been cited in net neutrality discussions. Even in 2016, there are no coherent rules to ensure transparency around actual internet speeds and ISPs are frequently let off offences without being penalised. Canada's Internet looks set to remain in a precarious state for the foreseeable future.
European Union
In August, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) published guidelines that set out how net neutrality operates in the EU. Under BEREC's ruling, the Internet is mostly neutral but individual network providers can apply for "special treatment."
Cases that may quality as an exception include scenarios like the use of high-quality voice calling on mobile networks. Similar services, such as live broadcasts on internet TV, may also gain preferential treatment on providers' networks, ensuring the quality of real-time feeds isn't degraded due to network congestion. Regulators will be expected to check that prioritising one service won't negatively impact others.
Flags of European countries are displayed in front of a flag of European Union on September 4  2012 ...
Flags of European countries are displayed in front of a flag of European Union on September 4, 2012 in Lille, northern France
Philippe Huguen, AFP/File
The regulations have been largely welcomed by net neutrality campaigners, although there are lingering concerns around the "special treatment" clauses. The EU has signalled it's largely in favour of net neutrality but has avoided an outright ban, potentially allowing providers to continue prioritising services.
There are also questions around how enforceable the guidelines will be. The law has already been active for months but national regulators are still moving to interpret and implement the ruling.
Particular uncertainty is present in the UK. Ofcom, the U.K. telecom regulator, currently follows its own approach to net neutrality. The U.K.'s decision to leave the EU in Brexit earlier this year means it may end up following a different set of rules to the rest of the Euro-bloc. They may be less in favour of the open internet.
The Future
At present, the U.S. and EU look to be progressing towards formally accepting the Internet's "neutral" state. However, there's continued opposition from the telecom industry that could reverse the regulation prohibiting throttling and service prioritisation.
Questions linger around the EU's ability to implement its guidelines and the impact that Brexit will have on the U.K. In the States, there are concerns that Donald Trump's presidency could reverse net neutrality's recent strides forward. In Canada, the situation is even more complex as the government is reluctant to act and providers already prioritise some services.
Banner supporting net neutrality and Internet Slowdown Day
Banner supporting net neutrality and Internet Slowdown Day
Battle for the Net
There's also continued debate around net neutrality itself. While the idea is generally accepted outside the telecom industry, some think that an open, free market should be preferred over government regulation. There are arguments that competition could be increased without net neutrality but opponents say this would fragment the online ecosystem and leave consumers worse off.
Net neutrality is still very much a current concern, despite recent headlines that suggest the mission has been achieved. In reality, individual battles have been won, but there's still a larger war to conquer ahead.
More about Net neutrality, Internet, Broadband
 
Latest News
Top News