Net neutrality: should we really be worried?

By Jack Eardley

The graph above shows data taken from Google Trends in 2017, the blue line represents searching for ‘net neutrality’ and the red line for ‘Greggs’. That peak on July 12th was the international net neutrality protest day and it shows that, very briefly, people in England were more concerned about net neutrality than pies or pasties.

The term net neutrality is very hard to disagree with, the very name encourages you to support it.

A lot was made of this day – there was almost universal media coverage suggesting that the internet was under threat from market forces, and some incredibly convincing memes were produced. The term net neutrality is very hard to disagree with, the very name encourages you to support it, after all what would the opposite be if not net discrimination? The term essentially stands for the principle that all internet traffic is treated equally by suppliers and governments, regardless of what the traffic contains.

There is good reason to support net neutrality; it is easy to imagine a scenario in which your broadband company does a deal with a particular video streaming site to give them favourable speeds. Before long, it is so painfully slow to watch reruns of The Office on Netflix that you are forced to switch your loyalties to Amazon Prime.

But before we go overboard with protest and demand regulation to protect our fragile internet ecosystem, we should think about how the internet got to where it is. The internet has evolved from a lawless and free soup of ideas and videos of monkeys riding pigs; that is why it creates so much. Trying to protect what we love about the internet by regulating and controlling it now could do more harm than good.

Now you might say that just because the internet has been so successful in the past it doesn’t mean it will stay this way in the future. This is a good point, but it is also easy to forget that there is already regulation in this country and indeed in most free countries to protect us from monopoly and dodgy corporate synergy deals.

Unfortunately this is where arguing against net neutrality becomes challenging. It is very easy to use memes and satire to explain the potential damage that net discrimination can inflict, and it is easy to get people excited to protest against a perceived problem. However, the author believes that competition law and Ofcom enforced transparency rules in this country already do an effective job at keeping our internet open and competitive. Therefore the most sensible action at this point is to put down your petition and go look at some cats that look a bit like Hitler because the internet we all love is here to stay.

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