Net neutrality means that internet service providers (ISPs) are not able to vary their customers’ access to the internet, nor can they prioritise certain websites or services, such as Netflix or iPlayer, over others. Net neutrality ensures ISPs can only compete on price, speed, and service.
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Those who advocate net neutrality argue that it protects various rights, including freedom of expression and the right to conduct business. Those who argue against it, particularly ISPs, focus on running costs, innovation, and profit implications.
Net Neutrality: Also known as ‘open internet’, is the principle that you control what you see and do online, not the broadband provider that connects you to the internet.
It’s about people being free to access all legal internet content equally, without broadband providers interfering.
In the first of a 2-part series, we’ll provide you with expert insight on:
- The reasons for and against net neutrality.
- The current state of net neutrality within the EU.
- How a loss of net neutrality would affect UK businesses, including yours.
- What you can do to protect your business.
To learn about how Brexit could affect net neutrality read part two of our series.
Net Neutrality - the Battle Rages
Growth, flexibility and investment in new infrastructure - this is what ISPs say overhauling net neutrality means for them. The argument for overhauling net neutrality is economically driven.
More and more network capacity is needed for increasing internet usage. As such, ISPs are having to add increasingly more powerful routers and switches to meet this, as well as increasing the available bandwidth between equipment. Doing so is expensive, and ISPs wish to recoup these high costs by either charging customers more for certain online access or charging companies to have priority over their networks. Either way, a ‘two-tiered’ or even ‘multi-tiered’ internet is the inevitable result.
Net neutrality activists counter-argue that the internet was founded on the principle of unbiased end-to end-connectivity. Therefore, everyone’s data packets should be treated equally. They also argue that there already exists differentiation of service online, i.e. with Quality of Service (QoS) requests.
Current EU Regulations regarding Net Neutrality
Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 of the European Parliament and Council as issued on November 25th, 2015, is the key provision under EU law regarding net neutrality. The right to equal network access is protected by this EU regulation, and it also ensures that EU citizens can exercise their fundamental rights when accessing the internet.
The London-based GSMA believes “EU Regulation 2015/2120 is fit for purpose and up-to-date, as it provides strong and clear principles”. This is also the opinion of European Digital Rights (EDRi), a Brussels-based international digital advocacy group. However, both organisations still have concerns about the shortcomings of the EU Regulation, as detailed below.
The EU’s Issues with Net Neutrality
A prime example of net neutrality issues was seen in Portugal in 2018. The breakdown of the situation was:
- Portugal’s telecom regulator (ANACOM) imposed a demand, on February 28th 2018, that all three major Portuguese mobile ISPs change ‘special’ offerings.
- These ‘special’ offerings included services which only allowed certain customers access to a selection of applications (such as Youtube or Netflix), instead of the full internet.
This was a problem because the Portuguese ISPs were in flagrant breach of EU net neutrality rules, but no fines were imposed on them, and the EU never called Portugal to task on these violations.
Another undermining of the EU’s net neutrality law is “zero-rating”, where an ISP doesn’t count access to a website against a user's data limits, thereby giving an advantage to certain sites when being viewed via a metered connection.
The EU regulations have been so haphazardly implemented since 2015 that some EU countries, such as the Netherlands and Slovenia, have actually adopted stronger net neutrality laws that address these weaknesses.
How A Loss of Net Neutrality Can Impact Businesses
A loss of net neutrality would mean ISPs could make deals with websites to prioritise content. This would result in more rigid ‘content packages,’ which would result in higher costs to everybody.
This could impact large and small businesses since a ‘tiered’ internet would mean additional costs could be levied on every website. This would potentially require all online businesses to pay every ISP to ensure their visibility online. These additional costs could mean the demise of small online businesses who could not afford all the additional costs needed to simply have an online presence.
An ISP could automatically limit what might and might not be seen online, while certain content and services could be blocked entirely. This is not only for people accessing the internet but, once again, it’s potentially devastating for a company’s online viability, including its own ability to access the websites of partners or platforms that may be needed to create or foster business.
If you want to read about how Brexit and other factors could affect net neutrality in the near future then you can find part two of our series here.
What can you do to protect your business?
Look into colocation or connectivity services from a carrier-neutral data centre. This is a facility that is entirely independent of ISPs, and offers clients a wide variety of connection options. There are many advantages that come from using a data centre, one of which is ‘ISP agility’, which allows them to avoid higher costs by keeping ISPs in fierce competition with one another.