Net neutrality: an Issue that cannot be ignored in the global context

express the importance of net neutrality

Introduction

Net neutrality is a defensive battle that affects how much people pay for streaming media. It is a mutual discussion between the government and large companies. Basically, this censorship is about prohibiting Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down traffic or charging extra fees as you wish for speeding up access. Accordingly, it is an important dimension for maintaining information and communication infrastructure which becomes an indispensable existence for policy advancement, economic structure and democratic participation simultaneously.  As for Australia, it should implement the principle of net neutrality, which is conducive to Australia’s network innovation and encourages competition as well as investment. (Rimmer, 2017) In addition, the vertical integration of Internet giants can also be significantly improved in this way.

a meme for the advocacy of net neutrality and the irony of Internet companies profiting from it
Image: a meme irony about how Internet companies profit from free internet space, Courtesy of TechCrunchz, Some rights reserved

What is net neutrality?/Historical basis and development

According to Tim Wu(2003), the non-discriminatory principle of communication infrastructure was first applied to transportation systems such as ports, and later applied to networks in many countries. The conflict exists between the establishment of discriminatory practices to achieve market allocation and the government’s control over public interests.(Pickard and Berman, 2019)

 

Net neutrality is a regulatory power to prevent ISPs from interfering with the current flow and speed that flows through and to make websites and users pay for faster loading times. This is an argument about who owns and controls the connected pipes. Net neutrality is the relationship between the government, ISPs and the public.(Pickard and Berman, 2019) As seen in this video, internet giants want to reap more profits and use pipes to collect periodic fees. 

Video: What Is Net Neutrality? by PragerU, All rights reserved

 

The National Science Foundation (NSFNET) subsidizes the construction of the Internet, making it the backbone of the Internet. Later it was handed over to large companies to make it privatized and changed its logic to satisfy profit. Then with the development of Bell Systems (AT&T), the telephone operator, it is urgent to provide supervision. (Pickard and Berman, 2019) The establishment of the Federal Government Commission (FCC) has played a role in supervising and regulating the charging of communication services and stipulating fair and reasonable non-discrimination. This is the root of net neutrality. Later, because of hierarchical supervision, the network system was gradually pushed to the free market. Take the Comcast restriction case in 2007 as an example. ISPs intercepted legitimate Internet traffic and prevented the public from discussing Century Music from being made public. The prevalence of commercialization and fast-track access in the public sphere will trouble Internet users, as well as have an impact on politics and society. The release of ISPs may lead to discrimination. Inequality or minority voices cannot be responded to and treated fairly due to current restrictions, and are eventually overwhelmed by mainstream and power owners. This runs counter to the principle of distribution and fair participation. According to the form of market failure, the rationality of government intervention has always existed.(Pickard and Berman, 2019)

 

In 2015, the FCC reforms can prevent ISPs from restricting the speed of content, which means that network neutrality is officially treated. It has the power to supervise companies such as Verizon and AT&T. In addition, net neutrality has effectively protected social and popular movements that oppose the concentration of corporate power.  A small policy decision will have a huge impact.

Image: Trump against net neutrality, Twitter, All rights reserved; Concerns about dominant ISPs, Twitter, All rights reserved

After the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolished net neutrality which may bring billions of dollars to AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.(Hoffman, 2014) Pipes were given the right to censor traffic again. But whether they will reasonably use power rather than make it an excuse as a subsidiary of business is not yet known. 

Impacts from Australia’s main ISPs and foreign media markets

 There exists a long term query of net neutrality for Australia’s environment because there hasn’t any clear regulations on net neutrality in this country so far. (Manwaring, 2010) Australia pays less attention to the public policy of net neutrality and lacks the management of ISP. The market situation is different from areas with relevant regulations and controls such as the United States and Europe

Image: The ISP system in the US and Australia, Warwick Davis, All rights reserved

 

The three Internet providers Telstra, Optus and TPG vertical integrate 83% of the market, of which Telstra owns 50%. It seems that many ISPs have been deprived of market share and hopeless to compete. (Crozier, 2016) Facts have proved that the video-on-demand content of Foxtel, a Telstra subsidiary, is provided to home Internet users in a metered manner. The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) also questioned Telstra because it holds the exclusive channel of Australian sports events and only provides unlimited viewing to its customers. However, this phased charging policy is implemented for other ISP’s customers. (Daly, 2014) The structural problems caused by such monopolies of major companies have suppressed other smaller ISPs, and it is difficult for them to become compelling content. Many have already or are facing bankruptcy. This trend of integration makes ISP’s competition concentrated and intense. (Meese, 2020) 

 

Roy Morgan’s September data estimated that Netflix’s Australian subscribers in increased to 4.45 million, accounting for about 25% of local traffic in 2016 and even reached to 37.7% in 2017. (Roy Morgan, 2017) In the future, the introduction of foreign media as Netflix will draw a bulk of audiences that may deprive Australia’s local Internet company giants of a large part of their control. Therefore, net neutrality should still be applied to Australia’s network environment and market to a large extent. The National Broadband Network (NBN) should urge Australia’s broadband services to follow the principle of network neutrality because this may be the reason for inhibiting internet innovation. 

 

The 2012 Convergence Review pointed out that the ACCC’s existing powers may be too narrow to address net neutrality in Australia. (Davis, 2015) Therefore, in terms of the government, the ACCC should be decentralized which is giving more supervision power or allowing it to conduct unified flow control and pricing. For netizens, if they can have their own opinions on choosing an ISP and know the policy of traffic management, then the ISP’s influence and non-neutrality on them will not be so significant.  

Implications towards netizens

For the general public, Australia’s further effort to build network neutrality is fairer for them to apply streaming media loading rates, and people can less worry about the periodic charging policy especially in a new development that tends to diversify and the influx of foreign media in this new internet age. In addition, Internet users will not be deceived due to the potential impact of ISPs which leads them comfortably to pay more fees to internet market stakeholders. In a democratic country like Australia, such a more open and transparent way makes the role of democracy in life more prominent, which means that people will not be controlled by monopolistic Internet markets and channels. They can participate rationally in the internet infrastructure construction of democracy. Because of the fact that the Internet neutrality is not sorely a check and balance between the government and companies, but also promotes the general public’s awareness of the information and media companies who charge from them. 

Conclusion: a prospect

Although network neutrality has been widely noticed and established, the monopolistic structure of the communication system and market distribution must be implemented as soon as possible, otherwise these protective measures can only serve as a deferral of charges. As Pickard and Berman (2019) mentiond, the debate on net neutrality is not only limited to the technical debate on Internet lines, but also a vital measure for internet users’ rights struggle to express their central ideas in politics and creativity to win the right of choosing information. It is also a wake-up call for citizens towards self-interested companies to be opposed to corporate liberalism. How to establish a network monitoring system guided by social justice without making the network infrastructure run on a commercialist framework is a point that needs to be considered globally in the future. As analyzed by Roberts (2018), centralized censorship systems and democratic countries need not tend to be similar. It is necessary to establish a network system that is worthy of people’s trust to suit the information environment as well as channels that focus on network neutrality.

Reference List:

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