The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States recently announced a plan to slash net neutrality rules. Net neutrality is the equal treatment of all data. Shall the FCC’s plan proceed, internet usage of Americans will be restricted and limited. How would this affect us? Unbeknown to us, Filipinos have already lost net neutrality.
The internet is a set of interconnected pipes and satellites that can send data from one point to another. Companies like Globe Telecom, Converge ICT, and Philippine Long-Distance Telephone (PLDT) are a few of the Philippines’ Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Access to the internet is controlled by ISPs. Whether it may be postpaid, prepaid, fiber, or digital subscription line plans, ISPs manage the connection to the internet. This gives the ISP’s the ability to control data speeds and volumes. They are responsible for maintaining the integrity of internet access. To keep them in check, governments impose laws that protect the people’s right to free internet.
Net neutrality is the equal access to all websites and web services. Anyone can start a website or web service and make it accessible to anyone with internet access. No one is charged differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type, or mode of communication. Violation of net neutrality includes throttling and favoring of selected data.
Free Facebook seems harmless, but it disrupts net neutrality. Free Facebook has been provided to the Philippines by Smart and Globe since 2015. This is an incentive given to their subscribers. The free data somewhat pushes customers to use these services. One might say that Facebook is the social media of the decade and the free data does not affect its use. However, Facebook is not an isolated case. Both companies have given free data allocations for services such as Spotify, Viber, Snapchat, and many more. ISPs even go as far as giving out free access to services just to advertise them. Data allocations favor paying companies and discriminate against startups that cannot advertise.
Net neutrality’s effect is not only limited to services, as it also protects creator content. Access to uploaded videos or artwork are limited by ISPs, unless creators pay for exposure. Giant content creators may opt to pay media hosting sites to promote their content and hide opposing content. A biased content environment is made wherein ISPs cherry pick data that customers consume.
Why stop there? ISPs, in cooperation with governments, can block certain websites unless you pay an additional fee. Governments may also use this power to block websites entirely. Selective data is detrimental as it leads to manipulation of information.
Imagine going to a library wanting to borrow a book by Philpot. Philpot is not affiliated with the library and a thousand pesos will be charged for borrowing the book. An additional fee for an otherwise free service is unacceptable. A free alternative book of lesser quality written by an affiliated author was offered. This forces you to either pay for the better book, settle for the other book, or get none. A win- win situation for the library. This will happen to the internet and all its content unless ISPs are unregulated and unaccounted for.
Regulations are key. The government must pressure ISPs to provide fast and cheap internet without discriminating users and creators. Free stuff is a blessing. However, it is better that ISPs increase data allocations for all websites and web services rather than add-ons. An internet controlled by a middleman will result into the misery of most and the profit of a few. An internet that is free will continue to shower us with wonder.