In the growing age of the internet, a major section of the economy is controlled by the Internet. The online economy provides us with a unique issue. While one portion of the internet is providing a marketplace on which people trade goods and services (for example online vendors like Amazon.com, Flipkart.com, etc.) the other portion of the internet is giving users unlimited and unrestricted access to each other. While this access and communication seem free on the outset, it is actually paid for by the people in the form of data and information regarding them. Thus, even so-called “free” services available on the internet are actually paid for – just not in cash but in kind.
However, since these services appear to be free of cost and are plagued by the bandwagon effect Internet Service Providers Websites become part of monopolies. When people have familiarised themselves with one particular Internet Search engine, they tend to stick to it. Thus that search engine gains control over what the individuals see and what websites they use.
This is the point where net neutrality comes in. Search Engines and Internet Service Providers are capable of changing the way you use the internet. Net neutrality is the concept that these ISPs should treat all websites equally. In other words, the Internet Service Provider should not exercise an influence on factors such as speed and accessibility of certain websites, to incite the user to use competing or alternate websites.
Net Neutrality is a fundamental aspect of the right to free and fair access to Information. Net Neutrality is the cornerstone of communications between websites and users without discrimination. With the expanding scope of the Internet, it has become increasingly important.
In 1888, Almon Strowger invented the electromechanical automatic telephone exchange when he discovered that the telephone operator was transferring calls for his company to his opponents. From there, the concept of neutrality has been a playing factor in our economy.
There are certain rules and regulations which aim to enforce the principle of Net Neutrality.
The problem of Net Neutrality did not exist only with Internet Service providers. In the United States, in 1860, a law was passed relating to the transfer of telegraphs. The law dictated that the transfers must be completely impartial with respect to Private companies.
The concept of laws relating to Net Neutrality, however, is relatively new. In 2010, Chile passed a law for net neutrality. The features of the Act were that it prevented the subsidisation of data as well as ensuring data privacy and security. There exists a similar law in the Netherlands, however, it holds certain exceptions including congestion, spam and security reasons.
In the world today, the concept of net neutrality is still in the policy stages. Many think-tanks and interest groups have come together to develop policies which governments should adopt regarding Net Neutrality. Almost all countries which have spoken about net neutrality in a public framework have spoken in favour of it.
Net Neutrality need not be achieved only through specific laws. Discrimination by ISPs can be targetted through Competition Laws of many countries. For example, the oligopoly of ISPs through telephone network in India makes companies such as Jio and Vodafone liable to Competition Act, 2010. Similarly, in the US, the laws relating to ‘common carriers’ have been applied to the ISPs as well. This law states that the sole carrier of a good or service from one party to another cannot discriminate between parties and must operate on an equal basis.
There have been three major oppositions to the notion of Net Neutrality. Firstly that it would result in the banning of legitimate and necessary interventions by the ISPs in the interest of privacy and security. Secondly, it would violate the rights of corporations to free trade. Finally, that such laws could be abused by the government and violate the laissez-faire principle.
Internet Service Providers often need to perform the necessary filtering of the data packets to avoid spams and viruses and also to protect the privacy of its users. Brah Cohen – who created BitTorrent said, “I most definitely do not want the Internet to become like television where there’s actual censorship…however it is very difficult to actually create network neutrality laws which don’t result in an absurdity like making it so that ISPs can’t drop spam or stop attacks”
On the second point, it is important to note that in the legal framework, not only do the users have rights, but so do the corporates. The right to free trade and profession is violated by laws which restrict the ways in which the ISPs can use their services to generate money.
Finally, it has been argued that there is scope for abuse of these laws by the government. It has been argued that laws of network neutrality would form an unnecessary intervention in the internet economy. Further, these laws would create additional reasons for the government to demand ser data to monitor that proper network neutrality is maintained.