Net Neutrality - The Highway of the digital world

Recently I have driven from England to Denmark and amazingly crossed 6 countries on the way: England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany reaching then Denmark.

Even though I have driven it multiple times before, every time I drive it I am astonished by the differences of road regulations in each country, the highway infrastructure itself, the speed limits, the way people drive and of course free vs non-free highways.

During the drive this time, I was listening to the radio where the net neutrality topic came up and how the Trump's administration might be looking to change its stance to it. And it dawned on me that road regulations and net neutrality are some how similar and are very important to all consumers and enterprises.

So what is Net Neutrality and how important is it for the digital consumer and digital enterprises?

Due to the fact that as a digital consumer, your digital existence rely on the internet and as a digital enterprise, your delivery mechanism of your services relies on the net as well, i believe it is an important topic to share with you and provide you my recommendations based on my research, experience and many debates on this topic. As some of you might be new to the topic, I will make real world analogy using my recent driving experience.

So what is Net Neutrality?

In simple terms it is the principle that all data transmitted equally (quality, speed, prioritisation) through the internet, without any discrimination against any content irrespective of its type and source/owner (of course as long as it is legal).

So going back to my driving experience, net neutrality is saying all people have equal rights to drive on all highways using any type of car, irrespective of its size, speed and make (as long as it is legal and safe). They can't ask you not to drive or force you to drive slower just because you don't have a certain make of a car.

So what are the two sides of the Net Neutrality Coin?

1- Advocates - argue that net neutrality is needed to democratise the internet, ensure freedom of speech, cultivate innovation, support competition on the content level by ensuring the web is a fair and level playing field to all small and big companies and allow equal access of all content to all digital consumers. This means, I was able to drive from England to Denmark using the highways and roads of my choice using my car and having equal rights like any other citizen.

2- Critics - argue that net neutrality diminishes innovation and competition on the infrastructure level, allowing the few applications that are "data hogs" to crowd our internet pipes and therefore current infrastructure is slowed down, which in-turn makes content unreachable by the digital consumer. By having other alternatives, including paying services, this provides investment money to enhance the networks to permit all kinds of new services. So critics say that if there hasn't been investment in the road infrastructure to improve and maintain them, I would either have struggled to find a connection to Denmark or it would have taken me double the time and effort to arrive to my destination.

As you might have indirectly deduced, advocates are usually the application and content companies and the critics are major internet service provides supported by hardware manufacturers who supply their network equipment.

What is the current regulations then?

Across both Europe and United States, regulation and guidelines exist that supports Net Neutrality (explicitly prohibit undue blocking and throttling) but has exceptions for 2 areas:

- Zero-rated services/practices - giving a type of content or services for free if the digital consumer is willing to join them (e.g. Unlimited video streaming using a specific application without eating from the consumer's monthly data allowances). It means, if such services/practices existed, I might be able to drive on a special lane, quicker with free fuel if I had a certain make of a car (as the car manufacturer had an agreement with the highway provider or it is owned by them).

- Specialised services - giving higher quality and other enhanced features for the transmission of specific content and/or services for higher prices for the digital consumer. This is similar to high speed lanes or higher quality roads with less congestions for special highway "tolls".

The above are monitored by regulators and they try to check to ensure such services are not degrading others unfairly.

So which team should you support?

In our daily life, we take highways for granted, we expect them to be there, with certain quality, safety, and connectivity. Everyone pays a certain % of their tax for infrastructure improvements. Highways are regulated, even though on a national level, with fairly similar regulations across all countries and even the paid highways are affordable.

The above is also reflects how my position is on Net Neutrality. The principles for Net Neutrality should be:

1- Net Neutrality should be a "given": We shouldn't even discuss that all digital consumers should have the right to be free to access and distribute information and content/applications of their choice and that content/services are offered without any discrimination.

2- Everyone should contribute to Net Neutrality: Internet is now like any commodity and therefore everyone using it contribute to its continuous improvement. I, therefore, push for a "Net Neutrality Tax" for all content, application enterprises as well as internet providers to ensure the "high ways" of the internet are kept open, safe and available to be used by everyone.

3- Loyalty & Marketing Offers based on Quality: Enhanced Quality and speed of transmission can be offered as "special" services as long as it applied to all content and applications of same type (e.g. Video streaming quality rather than from a specific applications). In addition, it shouldn't be on the determent of other types i.e. Video streaming quality kills quality of normal audio.

4- Regulations for Fairness not gatekeeper: Regulators should keep an eye that the first 2 principles are there and that principle 3 is affordable for everyone without discrimination or privilege to group of people due to any criteria (e.g. Availability of funds).

I will be very keen to see how Net Neutrality will develop with new Trump's Administration as well as in Europe. Your can also follow the topic and why not contribute and share your views on this topic, as an individual digital consumer or as part of a enterprise lobby, as all our influences are crucial for all our digital futures.

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