On December 14, 2017, United State’s Federal Communication Commission voted to repeal a 2015 Obama-era Net Neutrality rule that protects equal access to all types of web content.
In a nutshell, this rule prevents Internet Services Providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling access to certain websites or services, charging consumers for priority content, and treating broadband service as a utility (similar to a telephone service).
Led by FCC Republican Chairman, Ajit Pai, the 3-2 vote victory sealed its decision to dismantle the rule in order to protect the consumers and promote a vibrant competition. “Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas”, he added.
As controversial as it may be, many people are still scratching their heads as to what net neutrality is and how it will affect their broadband consumption–especially for users here in Singapore. As an organization that advocates for innovation and an open Internet, we at Vodien decided to write this article to explain the issues surrounding net neutrality and its impact on global consumers.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is a principle stating that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, regardless of where the web content is hosted. It means that ISPs should not give any preferential treatment to certain websites or content providers.
So, whether you’re browsing Facebook, streaming videos on Netflix or shopping products on Amazon, net neutrality requires that broadband providers allow subscribers equal access to any web content of their choosing.
In 2015, the FCC enacted the net neutrality law under Title II Order of the 1934 Communications Act by regulating ISPs as public utilities and preventing them from performing any discriminatory practices such as blocking and slowing down access to some websites or receiving payment in exchange for “fast lane” access to certain content.
As an example, under the old net neutrality rule, Verizon is not allowed to prioritize online content from companies they own, such as AOL and Yahoo. With the old rule out of the way, this type of monopoly may be legal as long as Verizon (or any broadband providers) acknowledges it.
How Does Net Neutrality Affect Us?
The objective of net neutrality is to keep the Internet free and accessible to everyone, regardless of the online platform they access it from. Under the new rule, many net neutrality advocates assert that broadband companies will charge more for subscribers to access certain websites or censor content.
With the new regulation, expect that subscribers to pay more, with new pricing schemes leaning towards bundled packages. So, if you want to browse social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, you would have to pay extra for a premium social media bundle.
Another major concern is that subscribers might be subjected to pay-to-play deals where a fast lane will be occupied by large corporations while the rest of the players are left to deal with a slow lane. Small businesses think they will bear the brunt of unfair competition as surely the large Internet players have the ability to pay more to stay on top.
How does this affect Singapore?
Good question! Even with the recent issue still brewing in the United States, Singapore’s stance on net neutrality (to treat all content providers on the Internet equally and give consumers the right to access content on a non-discriminatory basis) still prevails.
IDA or Infocommunication Media Development Authority, Singapore’s own government regulatory body, first issued their policy about net neutrality on a white paper released in 2011. Despite the United States’ chaotic sentiments on net neutrality, IDA sees no need to overhaul its current policy as they have not observed any local ISPs to be in violation of such policy.
While IDA understands the importance of fostering innovation and economic efficiencies, they recognized that consumer interests should take priority and be given adequate protection as the growing demand and reliance on fixed-line and mobile broadband services continue to grow.
However, it’s worth noting that while IDA promotes net neutrality, they do not implement it completely. Local ISPs and network operators are still allowed to offer specialized or customized plans for web content, services and applications depending on commercially-negotiated or special terms and conditions. They also don’t ban ISPs from throttling bandwidth for as long as it adheres to IDA’s Quality of Service (QoS) and information transparency policies.
So people in Singapore, rejoice! Continue to Netflix and chill whilst you still can!