DO worry, be happy! 'End of net neutrality: end of the free Internet?'

Gijs Boerwinkel

In this blog series 'DO worry, be happy!', we talk to experts in the field of technology, innovation and ethics about new developments. On the basis of current events, we ask them to explain why we are worried about how technology will shape the future. But don’t be afraid, we are also looking for ways to take over the direction that technology is taking us. So DO worry, but be happy!

The reason
On the 14th of December, there will be a vote on net neutrality in the United States. The FCC (Federal Communication Commission) has made a proposal to largely abolish it. The law that guarantees the neutrality of internet use is under intense pressure from Republicans and lobby of major internet providers. The internet as free and open cyberspace again looks a step further away.

In part four of this series we asked Taco van Dijk, software developer at Waag, to share his thoughts on net neutrality. In addition to his development work at Waag, he also deals with privacy and security online and explains why we should be concerned about this.

What's the problem?
'The biggest problem is that online power is centralizing. Providers can influence what you and I can see on the Internet. They can make things so expensive that it is no longer available to everyone, and push other content by making very cheap. Net neutrality guarantees that all votes are heard and that the parties cannot enforce a commercial advantage by processing certain services faster than others. Abolition of the law can lead to price discrimination and the inhibition of freedom and innovation.'

Why do we have to worry about this?
'Abolishing net neutrality sounds like a minor intervention, but it stands for something bigger. First of all, it will give wealthy online players a greater advantage. They will be able to make deals with Internet providers and keep their platforms at the forefront. For new players, or not ‘financially high-value services’, it is extremely difficult to get a spot on the Internet. In theory this is still possible, but they will not get a fair chance in terms of speed and accessibility. This will put the break on innovation as well as equality online.

Another problem is privacy. Since Internet providers will soon be able to distinguish between content, they will also analyse these more extensively and store this data. In China, we see this happening already, in which propaganda and censorship is applied in the same way. The government determines what you see and how quickly certain content can spread.

In addition, the impoverishment of the supply is a great danger. Because popular well-visited platforms are preferred, the market mechanism will stimulate this popular production. This has great consequences for the diversity of online content.'

Do you see a trend in this area?
'Although big players such as Facebook, Netflix & Apple have spoken for maintaining neutrality and more than 95% of the population is also for equal online treatment, it seems to be happening that this neutrality will be abolished in the US. The FCC relies on figures from a fake news campaign with arguments against net neutrality. That is really a step in the wrong direction. It’s painful since almost everyone is against it, except the people who will earn a lot of money from the absence of neutrality. On the Internet you can see the criticism especially in the direction of Ajit Pai the chairman of the FCC, who was appointed by Trump at the beginning of this year. But there’s are some more, very rich people who will silently benefit from this.'

How can we exert concrete influence?
"We do not live in America, and here in the Netherlands, luckily the discussion is not on the agenda. It can have consequences for newcomers and start-ups on the Internet and therefore also for us. Innovations from America can slow down. The big established tech-giants stay in place. We have to hold on to this criticism if they are also going to try to implement this here in the Netherlands. You can also join or donate to the Electronic Fronteer Foundation, the American similar of the Dutch digital rights organization Bits of Freedom. They take action against this. You can also tell your American friends to do the same and then call them to email senators on this subject. This can be done via their website.'

In addition, there is an online action planned via ‘Battle For the Net’ where you can participate in many ways.

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