Net Neutrality: Why it is Important in Communication Rights

In yet another Trump Administration campaign to undermine strides made during the Obama era, US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is putting to vote a repeal on Net Neutrality. This is a possible breach on democracy1, as American’s voted against the repeal. Citing fake news, POTUS decided to move forward with the move initiated by FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai. This was announced on 21st November 2017, and a vote is expected on December 142. There has been a strong reaction on the internet ever since.

“By dismantling FCC is building a Great Corporate Firewall, dividing internet into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ & eroding free speech. No wonder FCC is trying to bury this news with the holiday. Shameful. Hurts ordinary Americans, small firms, and an open internet.” (US Senator Patrick Leahy).

 

WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY

 

The European Commission (2014) defined Net Neutrality as “the principle that all electronic communication passing through a network is treated equally.  That all communication is treated equally means that it is treated independently of content, application, service, device, sender address, and receiver address.”

In lay-mans language, net neutrality restricts Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from using the internet for gain and allows it to be accessible, free and open. If net neutrality is repealed, it will mean ISPs will have the right to control content, charge users more to access certain websites, censure some websites, and slow down the sites of their competitors, among more, creating a monopolistic internet. ISPs will be able to create internet packages which restrict consumers in pages they can access. It could be the death of a creative and unrestricted cyber world.

The danger is not only in the ISPs. Net Neutrality ensures that governments do not abuse power, especially in this day and age of fake news, internet shutdowns and censorship. Net Neutrality protects citizens from discrimination and encourages a competitive market instead of a monopolistic one.

The Internet is becoming increasingly important for daily life beyond social media. Communication, E-government, E-commerce, health, open education, and enforcing of rights, are just a few of innumerable benefits the free and open internet continues to offer.

 

IMPORTANCE OF NET NEUTRALITY IN THE INTERNET ECOSYSTEM

  “Killing Net Neutrality is an attack on innovation and technology, small businesses, equality, rural communities and freedom; it only serves to promote corporations over people,”  J.D. Scholten , Iowa Democrat running for Congress, writes on his twitter @Scholten4Iowa.

Net neutrality is one regulatory framework that maintains transparency, accountability, objectivity, efficiency, and independence on issues including networking technologies, network management, regulatory proposals, user rights, and access.

Since the announcement, Net Neutrality has remained a trending topic on US Twitter. This move, however, will not only affect the USA but also the globe considering that top tech companies such as Facebook, Youtube, Netflix, and much more are based in the United States.

Netflix US @netflix tweeted ‘Netflix supports strong #NetNeutrality. We oppose the FCC proposal to roll back these core protections.”

Internet Society, “a U.S.-based nonprofit organization established in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related standards, education, and public policy with the goal of achieving an Internet that is open, globally connected, and secure maintains the fundamental belief that Internet is for everyone.”

About 47% of the globe has active access to the internet (UN). The Internet Society ISOC has set a policy framework to bridge the gap of the remaining 53%. Repealing net neutrality will increase the gap in internet access through the introduction of cost to access some websites. This move will marginalize those with difficult access to internet especially women who are 50% less likely to access internet compared to men.

In July 2016, the United Nations made a declaration that ‘online freedom’ is a ‘human right’ and the resolution highlights “applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach when providing and expanding access to the internet and for the internet to be open, accessible, and nurtured.”  Net Neutrality is imperative to maintaining this resolution.

The ‘online freedom’ right that was declared last year by the UN4 has not been universally accepted.  Several countries rejected the resolution including China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Africa, and India. This decision mirrors connectivity issues and internet rights among nations who embraced the resolution and States that rejected it. Current world connectivity is highest in Europe at 79%, followed by 66% in the America’s, 41.6% in Asia, and 25.1% in Africa.

 

IMPLICATIONS OF NET NEUTRALITY GLOBALLY

 If everyone on earth had access to a free, open, and fair internet, an estimated $6.7 trillion in revenue would be achieved that could lift at least 500 million people out of poverty. The digital divide and ICT-related crimes such as internet shutdowns have already cost Africa which has the lowest internet connectivity on Earth. This is also affecting the gender gap because while the labor force in Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of over 50% women, there is a high level of illiteracy and lack of digital training. Already, men in this region are given priority in internet related services.

Middle and low-income communities and marginalized women are protected from internet exploitation and given an opportunity to use the internet to rise out of poverty through the principle of net neutrality. The digital gap will increase at a global scale should a repeal of Net Neutrality take place.

The world is already facing huge gaps in internet access because of issues such as lack of electricity, illiteracy, lack of infrastructure, lack of digital skills and the gender gap.  A repeal of Net Neutrality will affect policies that enforce better access for all, and gender responsive policy.  An expert survey conducted in 58 low and middle-income countries (A4AI) found the following.

“On average, countries scored just 2.73 out of 10, indicating very little to no discussion of the digital gender gap and possible responses to address the problem at the policy level.”

React to Gender Responsive ICT Policy (Web Foundation)5 advises policies to implement REACT – R – Rights, E-Education, A – Access, C – Content, T – Targets.  Rights ‘protect and enhance everyone’s rights online.’ Education is the ‘use of education to equip everyone – especially women – with the skills they need to access and use the web effectively.’ Access is to ‘deliver affordable access to an open web.’ Content ‘ensures relevant and empowering content for women is available and used.’ Targets are about ‘keeping policymakers accountable.’

Net Neutrality undermines these policies and inhibits actionable steps to close the digital and gender gap in internet access.

 

read Is Internet a human right?

 

CONCLUSION

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first considered compromising net neutrality on 23rd April 2014. In November 2014, US President Obama proposed the reclassification of broadband internet service to telecommunications to maintain Net Neutrality. The proposal was favored by the FCC who on 26 February 2016 protected net neutrality through reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service. FFC Commissioner Ajit Varadaraj Pai has made attempts to compromise this ruling since April 2017. The issue will be put to bed in December 2017.

 

writer

Hadassah Louis

Founder, Safety First for Girls (SAFIGI)

Zambia

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