The internet has created a world of endless opportunities, one that cannot be matched by any other invention in recent history, enabling people who are geographically apart to communicate, work together and businesses to operate beyond their geographical borders. However, this is only possible if the Internet remains open, free and fair, creating a conducive environment that enables everyone to innovate and communicate. In order to ensure that the net remains neutral, a movement called open Internet (Net Netrality) has emerged, which advocates that Internet service providers (ISPs) should provide the same access to all services, websites and ideas. In this article, I highlight context and the importance of having a fair and open Internet.
The notion behind Net Neutrality aims to ensure that even a service from a poor and rural communities should be accessible on the Internet the same way as that of a multinational company. Furthermore, Net Neutrality also intend to enable consumers to demand better broadband for all, thus prevent ISPs to block certain content, applications or establish fast/slow lanes for certain content.
The Internet was created to facilitate the free and open exchange of information, and Net Neutrality provide the much needed rules, guidelines and standards that ensure that the Internet continues to be open today and in the future.
The principle that ISPs and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, without discriminating or giving some users preferential treatment has been around for quite some time. The term Net Neutrality was first used by Professor Tim Wu from Columbia University, when he described the role of telephone systems. Moreover, in his paper titled ‘Network neutrality, broadband discrimination’, Professor Tim Wu highlighted the need for ISPs to treat all traffic on their networks equally. However, the term became popular when it started to be used in reference to the violation net neutrality principles by ISPs when they were reported to have been secretly slowing consumer downloads speed on peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks such as torrents.
This resulted in a public outcry and debates to regulate broadband data services just like any other public utilities such as water and electricity. Supporters of net neutrality see net neutrality as an essential component to advance the open Internet, thus make it easier for everyone to communicate, do business and transact online without being restricted from third parties. However, ISPs claim that heavier users on the Internet should pay more and the money they pay can be used to increase bandwidth and reduce the prices consumers pay.
Despite the critics, a free and open Internet is an unmatched space for free speech, civic participation, innovation and economic opportunities. Moreover, net neutrality is good for the consumers as it prohibits online discrimination and gives any individual, organization or company the same chance to share their ideas and find an audience. And without it, big corporations will monopolise the Internet and will impose control over how fast we access information and services on the web.
Further fuelling the net neutrality debates, is the introduction of free basics “Freebies” a not for profit initiative being advocated by multinationals such Facebook. Free basics intends to bring Internet connectivity to the impoverished, poor and down trotted communities. Though a good idea to connect the unconnected, Free basics is against net neutrality in that it only provides free access to limited websites, apps and services, but discriminate against other services and websites.
For example, using Facebook Free basics, one can only access services and websites, which are approved by Facebook. This defeat the purpose of net neutrality. However, Facebook defends its self by claiming that every service or website can apply to be part of the Free basics platform. This then raises the argument that if a service or website can become part of the platform, then what good does the concept of approval and rejection serve?
Though, free basics has the best intentions to connect the unconnected, it is being exploited by corporates like Facebook to monopolise the Internet, thus violating the principles of net neutrality.
The Internet has become the backbone of democracies world over; keeping citizens informed and improving our way of life. An open Internet is crucial for the emergence of new ideas, which will in return ignite new political movements, bring communities and families closer together. Moreover, an open Internet is the greatest tool of our time, therefore its control shouldn’t be left at the mercy of capital.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science