Net neutrality is getting a lot of attention lately, as the US government makes moves to threaten its status. We look at what's happening, what it means for New Zealand companies, and what, if anything, our IT professionals can do about it.
What do we mean when we talk about net neutrality?
In its most basic form, net neutrality is the idea that all data shared across the internet should be treated equally, without any preferential treatment. But what it means for IT businesses is a level playing field: it's a promise that we can stand up to our competitors online regardless of our size. Jordan Carter, Chief Executive of InternetNZ, describes it this way:
For IT businesses, net neutrality ensures a level playing field.
"At its heart, Network Neutrality is about ensuring that that openness is preserved, to ensure that the Internet remains a platform for unfettered communication, collaboration and innovation."
However, not all companies are in favour of net neutrality. As technology journalist Bill Bennett explains, internet service providers see net neutrality as an obstacle to their opportunity to make profits. If they're allowed to limit access to certain sites, or give preferential access to others, then they can charge for that privilege.
The big profits don't come from providing internet, Bennett argues, but from supplying the content that people access via that internet. ISPs are putting the work in supporting services like, say, Netflix, without seeing any of the benefits. Relaxing the rules around net neutrality would let ISPs see some reward for carrying these content providers. But while that may seem reasonable, it opens the door for more prejudicial behavior.
Why is net neutrality under threat?
The challenge to net neutrality is coming primarily from Ajit Pai, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Pai is taking steps towards repealing the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules, possibly replacing them with industry self-regulation, CIO.co.nz reports. The 2015 rules classified internet as a telecom service rather than a communications service – a distinction that allowed them to set up regulations banning selective blocking by broadband providers.
If the FCC repeals these rules, ISPs could have the opportunity to use their position to benefit themselves and their partners, and limit access to competitors. For companies working in online spaces, it will mean that access to customers could be determined by how much they are willing to pay for it, a situation that will naturally benefit bigger brands at the expense of smaller companies.
This will lead to a drop in the creativity and innovation that the internet currently supports, InternetNZ argues, and put limitations on the free exchange of ideas online. It will ultimately hurt consumers as the range and diversity of content they can access is reduced.
What can we do about it?
Internet companies in the States have begun to address the FCC directly, either by signing protest letters or lobbying Congress. Many online have staged public protests in recent years, such as Wikipedia 'going dark' in 2012, or the 'internet slowdown' held by companies like Reddit, WordPress and Etsy in 2014 to show what the internet could be like without net neutrality, Stuff reports.
IT professionals in New Zealand don't have the direct access to the FCC that their American counterparts do, but we can still make our opinions heard. The strength and beauty of a neutral, open internet is that everyone's voice counts, and everyone has the opportunity to have their message seen.
Wherever you stand on the issue of net neutrality, the next few months will be an important time for those involved in the IT industry. 920 understands the issues and challenges facing today's IT community. To talk to a recruitment company that can help you hire and retain top quality digital specialists, get in touch today.