Obama Backs Net Neutrality

Christopher Sewerd Policy

Over the past week the Net Neutrality debate has again surfaced due to comments made by American president, Barack Obama. Wading in to the debate, Obama appears to be in support of Net Neutrality and a free and open internet for all American citizens. As part of a statement given he said that there should be no paid prioritization system that would basically result in a slower service for those companies who could not pay.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up for the past few months, you may have missed the debate raging in the US regarding Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is the ideal of keeping the internet neutral, in that all traffic that passes through it has an equal weighting, no specific data is a priority over others. In a nutshell it allows for a free flowing internet, just as it has been for the previous two decades and more. LiquidVPN showed its support of Net Neutrality during the Battle for the Net campaign.

A group of ISPs want to do away with Net Neutrality and introduce a system in which the internet will be basically split in to two lanes, a slow lane for general traffic and a fast lane for traffic that has been paid for. The basics being, large corporations who can afford to pay to have their traffic delivered to consumers at a faster pace will in essence be at an advantage over those smaller start-ups who don’t have the funds to be part of such a system, the worry with that is it will stifle innovation.

The fact that the American president has added his weight to the Net Neutrality debate is great news for the public, the fact that a head of state has made comment on such an issue can only be seen as a positive step. However on the other side of the debate the announcement by Obama has been met with criticism, criticism by, you guessed it, the internet service providers of America.

It comes as no surprise that three of the biggest American ISPs, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have reacted in the manner expected, those who stand to profit the most from introducing a two-tier internet have condemned Obama’s speech centring their argument on the basis that introducing government regulation will stifle their ability to innovate with such regulations in place, a situation they claim, will lead to a requirement to ask permission before being able to proceed with expansion and other areas.

While it is true ISPs in the US have invested heavily in infrastructure and played a huge role in the success of the internet in the US and when playing within the current regulations, the fact they plan to change the whole landscape of the internet in the US by introducing a two-tier system can only be seen as greed and a profit driven decision made by those who wish to appease shareholders, rather than keep to the original, open and free internet that we have all become accustomed to.

Currently, ISPs, or “the internet” in the US is regulated by being seen as an “information service”, this allows very light regulation and little interference from the government. The proposed changes by president Obama would see the internet being classified under the heading of a “Title Two telecommunications services”. A change such as this would see the internet becoming a utility and allow the government to regulate and block two-tier internet deals.

Part of the response from the ISPs is that the government already have such powers under current regulations and if it wanted could already stop a two tier internet system without the need to reclassify the internet. While ISPs may not want to accept Net Neutrality, it would appear they are now far more concerned about government interference in future outside of the current debate, something with which the reclassification would allow.

The internet system in the US is rather unique in the western world in that areas are only serviced by one internet company leading to a somewhat monopoly of internet provider. Those who live in Europe are in a better position in that each area is covered by many providers and so competition is fierce, government regulation while necessary overall is little required as consumers who are unhappy with the service of their ISP can easily switch, in such a situation Net Neutrality is guaranteed as consumer pressure dictates.

FCCThe internet in the US has run without issue for over two decades in its current form and while no one can say that government involvement would be a good thing, it appears due to moves proposed by the large monopoly ISPs, the only way to prevent decisions that could affect consumer internet access is to introduce some form of regulation, how far this will be taken will be left to be seen should the move from information service to utility go ahead.

With arguments ranging on it appears that no side is any closer to realising the outcome that they wish, the FCC announced recently that the ultimate outcome has been delayed and no decision will be made until at least 2015 bypassing their December meeting agenda.