The day has come and gone, Dec 14th, 2017 marks the day that the FCC in the US has repealed Net Neutrality. What is Net Neutrality you say? Glad you asked!
Net Neutrality: The idea, principle, or requirement that internet service providers should or must treat all internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source or destination.
These laws installed by the Obama led administration was set in place restricting internet service providers (isp’s) from interfering with the internet and keeping it open and free for all parties to partake on an even playing field.
The 3 areas of major concern now that these regulations have been removed are blocking, throttling & prioritization. My goal here is to simply give you the arguments of both sides, and show you here in the Caribbean, how this decision can potentially affect you in the long run.
From the consumer perspective, it is pretty simple. The regulations were instituted to protect your interests. It gave an even playing field for small business to get noticed and actually compete in their respective fields. If you were an activist, someone with an opinion or just looking for like-minded people in a particular community, you had a voice on the internet.
Now, if you are a customer of an Isp, and they do not like your content, or it conflicts with their views, you have a chance to have your website outright blocked. They can now even block competing services and force you to use in-house services, ex-block Netflix in favour of you using their Video On Demand services. Isp’s can establish fast lanes & slow lanes, and charge you additional fees to access say Facebook at normal speeds, and if you want it for free, they would throttle your speeds.
Prioritization comes in the way of the Isp’s giving priority bandwidth to entities they feel deserve it. Self-driving cars using Isp’s data networks was the example used, and they would rather delegate precious bandwidth to that cause, than the person at home gaming or downloading movies.
On the side of the Telco companies, they paint a different story. Their whole motive behind backing the repeal comes down to the fact that while they are the ones investing in the infrastructure, entities like Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, etc are the ones hogging up the most bandwidth and they are not investing into any of the infrastructures.
That being said, they would like to impose a “toll” on these companies, so that they can now have more money to invest in the infrastructure. Also, competition has been stymied because of smaller startup Isp companies, were not able to invest enough into their own networks to follow the heavy-handed regulations of the FCC set out in 2015.
This repeal will allow more competition, according to Ajit Pai.
Digicel has already come out on record in favour of the repeal, and share the same sentiments as the Telco companies in America and Ajit Pai. It remains to be seen where the other Caribbean Telco companies fall on this matter.
If the Caribbean Telco companies start to push the Governments for similar regulations, during a time when small businesses in the Caribbean are now beginning to really start to get their feet wet with e-commerce websites and rely on an open Internet platform to compete with the giants; it could potentially crush them.
Similarly, with companies like Digicel who have been bleeding money due to the building of their fibre networks and the drop in currencies in their biggest markets, this may be the boosts they need to start recouping money to further drive innovation.
It remains to be seen where all of this leads to. The big argument and worry of the people are if the repeal will lead to censorship of content and the blocking of competition in favour of companies who have the capital to ‘pay to play’.
So if you are in the Caribbean, get familiar with Net Neutrality and if it comes our way, be prepared to take a strong stance on it, whichever side of the coin you feel makes sense.