08 May 2014

What is net neutrality and does it matter for Australia?

Net neutrality is one of the rules which govern the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the US, which states that all data must be treated equally. In practice, this means that when you request a website to be loaded or a file to be downloaded, the ISP must provide equal availability to all websites, files and data in general.

The US are now in discussions about abolishing net neutrality, and many are rallying to stop this from happening. But why are they considering abolishing it in the first place?

  1. ISPs argue that some certain websites (such as Netflix) take up a lot more of the data, and therefore should have to pay more for their end users to access it.
  2. ISPs argue that if they took big users like Netflix data requests off the normal internet ‘lanes’ and placed them in their own ‘lane’ (that Netflix would pay for) everyone else would have access to faster internet.

On April 23, 2014, Federal Communications Commission announced their new proposed rules which would allow ISPs the “right to build special lanes” with faster connection speeds for companies, such as Netflix, Disney or Google, who are willing to pay a higher price. Netflix has already signed a deal with major ISP Comcast in order to gain direct access to its broadband network core.

Why are people up in arms about abolishing net neutrality?

  1. People argue that if we abolished network neutrality, ISPs could purposefully slow down your internet access and make you pay for ‘fast lanes’.
  2. Another argument is that ISP usually have a vested interest in other companies – they might have movie streaming services, or music services for example. It would be in there interest to deprioritize other movie services and increase the speed on their own.
  3. Finally, the argument is that net neutrality allows for anyone to start a website and for it to be seen my millions of people – if we have to pay big bucks for decent access to our site, not everyone will be able to afford this.

Does this matter in Australia?

There are currently no net neutrality laws in Australia, which means we are currently open to these potential issues. Arguably we’ve already encountered some when Telstra introduced ‘unmetered’ content such as Big Pond movies which doesn’t count towards your monthly limit.

In many areas, and particularly in technology, Australia follows America’s lead. If The US moves further away from net neutrality, it’s likely that you will see the ACCC relaxing its stance.