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USA's Federal Communications Commission votes to reverse "net neutrality" rules

Editorial Staff

We are all internet users and the internet is supposed to be a broadly free medium (albeit one we pay for) but there was one piece of regulation that militated against all good sense in the cause of supposed equality for all. So-called Net Neutrality is a flawed interference in the freedom of commercial concerns to enter into agreements with individual customers and, more than that, it risks damaging commerce. Now the USA is proposing to reverse the position taken under the Obama government. This is why it should do so. But equally, this is why one major element of it must remain.

Those who campaign for "net neutrality" say that it's an approach which provides equal treatment of customers. What it actually does is to require companied to provide equal speeds and other services for, for domestic users, as it does for commercial entities.

Net neutrality is an illusion: in almost every country, users pay more for higher speeds and greater capacity.

There are many people who are joining the argument without understanding it - but they are doing so by adding their names to petitions, mail-bombing the FCC and generally just circulated message supporting the scheme. It is being seen as a left v right debate and there is an element of truth in that but it is also a young v middle aged and, even, town v country debate.

The first thing that is wrong with the idea that all individuals should be free to access all internet content and applications regardless of source is that pricing different speeds at different prices is sensible business. That must be permitted.

The second thing, which exercised the minds of many before the current rules were introduced in 2015 is that where service providers are also content providers, it should be unacceptable to, in effect, penalise those who access content from other providers. In principle, there should be nothing wrong with this: it's only updating the concept of Compuserve which had its own internal content network. What, in principle, is wrong with a company bundling e.g. tv, phone, published content and internet connection and then charging additional fees for services outside those cross-subsidised services.

What's wrong with it is this: it's like Apple's walled garden: once a user is locked in, breaking out is difficult.

There is a solution: ISPs should not also be content providers and customers should be able to purchase both volume and speed as required with content being charged by content companies without any form of cross-subsidy.

Big business in the USA, in particular, will object to that but it's the de facto position across much of the world. Indeed, in some cases, for example Malaysia's ASTRO, it works in reverse with fibre internet connections being subsidised by the TV channel for non-dish delivery.