Should Australia Introduce Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality

Introduction

The concept of net neutrality arises to address the idea that the internet should present all traffic equally to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from stifling or accelerating connection speeds in favor of influencing traffic to specific websites (Endres, 2009). Even before Tim Wu proposed the idea in 2003, the debate of managing traffic networks was an ongoing political and corporate battle, which made the net neutrality concept all the more worthwhile on the public agenda.  On the one hand, ISPs, lobbying groups, and large internet organizations argue that net neutrality has detrimental implications on market factors such as advertising and marketing. On the other hand, technocratic debaters insist that ISPs are susceptible to manipulation from political groups and members of the business community (Daly, 2016). Hence, on the precipice of emerging technological breakthroughs such as 5G and the increasing angry populist uprisings, it is paramount to review the arguments for and against the concept. Therefore, this essay will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the idea of net neutrality to gain a broad understanding of the various arguments and implications, in support of introducing this regulatory approach to regular internet users in the Australian context.

Source:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p90McT24Z6w&feature=youtu.be (Wall Street Journal., 2015,“Net Neutrality Explained ”,standard Youtube license)

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The Internet and Net Neutrality in Australia

Net neutrality is an idea that has protected against internet providers charging higher rates for particular types of internet content or favoring certain website speeds over others. Non-net neutral conduct violates the principle and benefits nobody outside of the ISPs, political groups, and other big telecom companies.  According to Pickard & Berman (n.d), these discussions began in the US, where the freedom of speech and information has always been of paramount concern. Activism transformed the concept from a technocratic debate into a populist cause against the giants such as Google and Verizon. However, while the concept is ingrained in law in countries like the US, its efficacy in the Australian context is debatable, owing to its support of the status quo.

In Australia, Daly (2014) posits that the internet is provided in numerous ways by ISPs, and the structure is similar to Europeans regarding privatization of former state-owned telecom monopolies such as Telstra and liberalization of the telecommunication market, which has increased competition. It is noteworthy that the Australian telecommunication market has a high vertical integration comprised of the two biggest internet providers, Telstra and Optus. Still, the situation is dissimilar to other countries that have a highly concentrated market. More so, the publicly-owned National Broadband Network (NBN) offers services on an open, equal access requisite to content providers and ISPs. This general competition is controlled by the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010, which prohibits collusive conduct and the misuse of market power and exclusive dealing.

Daly (2016) remarks that ISPs provide internet primarily on a volumetric pricing model, implying that end-consumers pay for access to the internet at a predetermined speed and limited download quota. In case the limit is passed, additional charges apply on a mobile bundle (MB) basis. According to Endres (2009), powerful actors on both sides of the debate in Australia have raised reservations on the importance of net neutrality in protecting ordinary internet users from any irrational policies by ISPs. This debate has been influenced by technological advancements and basically focuses on how ISPs can manage; networks, the information sent and received on the internet, and the speed or priority that any specific content is given. In whatever the case, this paper intends to argue for the introduction of net neutrality principles, to offer internet consumers more protection in the wake of technological advancements.

Picture showing the status of the current content providers in Australia’s Telco Market

Image: Net Neutrality, Finfeed, some rights reserved

Arguments for Net Neutrality

Despite the argument that Australian ISPs have no reason to participate in non-net neutral activities due to their pricing model, several researchers posit that they engage in traffic shaping. This idea refers to the blocking and stifling of content that is not from a subsidiary provider. Daly (2014) provides that with the growth of robust content providers in the market such as iView and iiNet, ISPs have threatened to restrict data from these content providers to limit network upgrades’ expenses. Hence, in the face of these monopolistic endeavors from the large ISPs (NBN), content providers have called for net neutrality to avoid these kinds of restrictions. Therefore, net neutrality is essential as it ensures all service and application providers are treated equally to protect consumers from unfair treatment during internet access.

    Picture showing young internet consumers argue for net neutrality for more protection

Image: THE HILL, Net Neutrality, some rights reserved

Additionally, Daly (2016) indicates that the current Australian system, with the NBN as the major player, not only makes Australia Telco market vulnerable, but it also suppresses competition in favor of economic extortion. Australia’s Telco system is used as a business model since paid prioritization economizes the internet and allows ISPs to engage in exclusive dealing.  Due to the limited amount of bandwidth in the Australian Telco market, it has become a financial strategy for ISPs to speed up one business’s connection speed and disadvantage its rivals for financial gain. This practice has created an unfair environment for small service providers who cannot compete with the more profitable ones. In this case, Australians may not receive adequate access to popular content. Thus, adopting net neutrality would remove the focus from the user-pay model (volumetric) and promote innovation and investment.

Arguments against Net Neutrality

According to (Cannon, 1931), net neutrality has not been an issue in Australia, and popular content providers in the market, such as iView, have not been throttled by the major ISPs, evidenced by the numerous streaming videos launched without net neutrality concerns. Endres (2009) insists that, to a large extent, Australia has evaded the debate on net neutrality due to the volumetric pricing model based on downloaded data. More so, the establishment of the NBN provided for a stable pricing model that was heralded as the key to internet provision as opposed to net neutrality, which is resolved along partisan lines and could result in an overpriced model.

Furthermore, developments in the European Union, and particularly the US, have influenced the Australian debate since the impact of these principles enforced by the US FCC on the telecommunication market has been overly pessimistic, with most lawmakers, courts, and organizations calling for their abolishment. Broadly, the net neutrality in the US is a disaster, and on the backdrop of this controversy and chaos that has rocked its Telco market, it is apparent that the framework would not suit the Australian context.

 

Implications of Net Neutrality on Ordinary Internet Users

Considering that the internet is continually changing how people communicate and interact, net neutrality is essential in the Australian context to protect consumers from online inequality. Major ISPs are currently heavily involved in traffic shaping, favoring specific businesses over others, reducing consumers’ internet speeds, charging exorbitant prices for downloads, and limiting competition from smaller firms (Daly, 2016). In this sense, when a user thinks of all the ways that the internet is useful, including watching videos on YouTube or Netflix and gathering information, it is apparent that the lack of net neutrality potentially attacks all these freedoms. Thus, introduction of the concept in Australia is bound to change the way people communicate, create content, and access the internet.

Picture showing the major ISP provider, NBN, which has throttled content providers like Netflix

Image: The New Daily, TDN, some rights reserved

Conclusion

The concept of net neutrality is crucial to protect everyday internet users from the irrational practices of massive corporations by ensuring all kinds of internet are unlimited and unrestricted in access and speed (Endreas, 2009). In Australia, the structure of the telecommunication market has not supported the implementation of net neutrality and this paper sought to argue for the introduction. Considerably, net neutrality benefits outweigh the cons since they protect consumers from manipulative and oppressive practices by corporations whose primary purpose is profit-making. In addition, with continuous breakthroughs in Internet technologies such as 5g, Australia’s telecommunications market will become even larger.  Therefore, net neutrality should be introduced in Australia to curb the monopolistic tendency of the country’s major ISP, NBN, and allow people a fair chance at accessing the popular content such as Netflix and YouTube. People can advance from free and open access to different websites and platforms, making the debate all the more critical for introduction in Australia.

 

References

Cannon, E. N. (1931). What constitutes common carrier. Marquette Law Review, 15(2), 67-75.

Daly, A. (2016). Net neutrality in Australia: The debate continues, but no policy In sight. In Net Neutrality Compendium (pp. 141-155). Springer, Cham.

Daly, A. (2014, September 1). Net neutrality in Australia: An emerging debate. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265470526_Net_Neutrality_in_Australia_an_emerging_debate

Endres, J. (2009). Net neutrality–how relevant is it to Australia. Telecommunications Journal of Australia59(2), 22-1.

Isabelle Lane. (2020). NBN Co’s ‘Netflix tax’ slammed amid growing public outcry over net neutrality. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/tech/2019/07/02/nbn-co-netflix-tax/

Pickard, V., & Berman, D. E. (n.d.). The Making of a Movement. In After Net Neutrality: A New Deal for the Digital Age (pp. 69-103). Retrieved from https//www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvqc6h2t.6

The Net Neutrality threat: why the internet may never be the same again. (2017, December 27). Retrieved from https://finfeed.com/features/net-neutrality-threat-internet-may-never/

Wu, T. (2003). Network neutrality, broadband discrimination. Journal on Telecommunications & High Technology Law, 2(1).

Wall Street Journal, 2015. Net Neutrality Explained.Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p90McT24Z6w&feature=youtu.be> [Accessed 30 October 2020].

 

Junjie Qiu
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