Net Neutrality: US Government’s Encroachment on Web Freedom?

Net Neutrality: US Government’s Encroachment on Web Freedom? © Flickr/ Markku Ulander

17:39 19.02.2015(updated 17:56 19.02.2015)

Ekaterina Blinova — A fierce debate was triggered by the US Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) forthcoming vote on the so-called “net neutrality” that would reclassify the Internet as a public utility in the United States and put it under the commission’s control.

In accordance with the net neutrality principle, Internet service providers (ISP) would be obligated to treat all the data equally and would be prohibited from blocking different Web sites and services. At the same time the measure will also restrain the American ISPs from offering tiered broadband services forcing content providers to pay money for priority web traffic.

Although the idea of “open Internet” has attracted lots of supporters, some experts are beating the drums, warning that new regulations will endanger the freedom of the Internet. Arguing that there is no evidence that big ISPs have ever discriminated content providers, by blocking them or reducing the Internet speeds, they point to the fact the US government will gain unprecedented control over the Web.

More Web regulation would jeopardize the global Internet freedom and would inevitably put the US in an awkward position, they say, stressing that while Washington is promoting a “hands-off” approach towards the Internet worldwide, it is going at the same time to impose restrictions over the Web at home.

The proponents of net neutrality insist there is a clear distinction between internet access and the content distributed over the Web, elaborating that the new regulation aims to provide equal opportunity for all market players and does not cover the issues of content or services delivered through the Internet.

Predictably, the most vocal antagonists of the net neutrality are the US tech giants, who benefit from imposing high fees on content providers for priority web traffic. Large ISPs claim the measure will discourage the telecoms from network upgrades and further development. Media sources note that US telecommunication companies have already turned to Congress seeking support. The tech giants want to limit the FCC powers over cable companies, which the agency is likely to obtain due to the new regulation.

Reportedly, the US telecoms are spending millions in political contributions for the election and reelection campaigns of congressmen tasked with supervising the FCC. For instance, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association spent about $6.6 million last year, while Verizon – $6.3 million, AT&T and Comcast – under $8 million, reports say. At the same time the US tech giants also poured lots of money in lobbying in 2014: Comcast spent $12 million, AT&T – $11m and Verizon – $10 million.

However, while the motivation of those fighting against the net neutrality measures looks clear, concerns about the Internet freedom and privacy issues in the United States remain: a Republican frontrunner for the forthcoming 2016 presidential campaign Jeb Bush recently expressed his strong support for NSA (National Security Agency) mass surveillance of American civilians, citing security concerns. Thus far, American freedom proponents’ fears are not groundless.

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