The basic principle of net neutrality is hard to disagree with. It posits that Internet service providers and state organizations regulating the Internet must treat all websites equally, and must not discriminate in any manner. It ensures the Web remains open and free to access for all.
Thanks to the actions of certain corporations and governments, net neutrality is under threat. Instead of being seen as a public utility, it is becoming more of a product. As highlighted by Quartz, Portugal – a nation with no net neutrality protective laws in place – may be a vision of a dark future in this sense.
MEO, a Lisbon-based telecommunications company, is taking advantage of the lack of regulations. They’re now offering packages at different prices that give their customers varying levels of access to the Web. If you pay a few euros per month, you just get to use messaging apps; a bit more, and you can use Facebook more, or perhaps Netflix more.
This seems like an alien concept to most. If you pay for the Internet, why don’t you have access to all of it?
MEO is generally seen as an extreme example of a net neutrality antagonist, but they aren’t the first to act in this way. Several American corporations have been either accused or fined for restricting access to their users, often without directly informing them.
Net neutrality – a term first coined in 2003 by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu – has become far better known in the last few years. Back in 2014-2015, the Obama administration voiced strong support for net neutrality rules, and in 2015, many were implemented.
This April, the newly appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission proposed actions that would threaten net neutrality in the US, and in May, the gradual rollback of landmark protections began. At least 22 million Americans have written to the FCC about the issue, largely in protest – but the policy change remains the same at the time of writing.
If this continues, then companies or individuals willing to pay more will get a freer, faster Internet service. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could lead to two classes of virtual citizen: one rich in money and information, the other poor in both.
Generally, those that approve of rollbacks are major companies that would stand to benefit from them economically. Those that advocate for neutrality include human rights organizations, consumer advocates, and much of the public – 77 percent of Americans, for example.
It all boils down to whether you think the Internet is a privilege or a right. Do you want to see MEO’s behavior echoed in your country?