Net neutrality is fundamental to the internet. It’s the principle that everyone should have guaranteed access to the same content on the internet, regardless of their service provider and location. On December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has repealed and voted it, on the implementation of “packages” that guarantee access to certain services but not others. Here’s why it is a disaster.
The LA Times, which is protesting the FCC’s aim, points to insidious consequences that come with a repeal of net neutrality. Shant Sahakian, author of the linked article and representative of the Glendale Unified School District, worries about “how the repeal will impact our students’ access to information and knowledge.” The district’s 26,000 students, the majority of whom live in low-income neighborhoods, could not afford fees for the majority of internet media—videos, apps, and downloadable content. “The repeal would create a digital divide for students who depend on the Web for homework, research and collaboration,” writes Sahakian.
A “two-speed” internet
As the French publication Libération explains, the end of net neutrality could give rise to a two-speed internet. That means that providers will have the possibility to provide, for example, “a faster throughput for on-demand video services that it owns, or for the highest bidder.” That would mean selective subscriber offers, where a user could have access to Netflix but not Spotify with their plan, or vice versa.
The local solution: create our own internet
The idea put forth by Motherboard might seem silly. But it’s based on a simple fact: Americans can no longer trust their telecommunications services. We could begin building decentralized internet infrastructure that is affordable and available to all. That’s already happening in Detroit, where the Equitable Internet Initiative has undertaken the building of community-owned infrastructure that would offer free Wi-Fi. Hundreds of other cities have done the same, and some rural areas have also installed antennas at the top of surrounding mountains. And big corporations can’t do anything about that.
What risks for France?
If in Europe, net neutrality is guaranteed by law, they still need to be on alert, warns the French newspaper Le Monde. Although Sébastien Soriano, chairman of ARCEP, or France’s FCC, affirms that setbacks in America “will not have any direct impact in Europe,” service providers there possess certain rights. They can, at any moment, block content to “prevent a computer attack, fix network overload, as with a ruptured submarine cable, or if a judge orders,” Le Monde writes. But those are emergency measures. “The French internet is more neutral than others,” reassures Sébastien Soriano. So far, all is well.