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Why the end of net neutrality in the United States must worry us

In a globalized world, what happens on the other side of the Atlantic is never safe for another part of the world.

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Net neutrality
In Washington, near the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a protest sign has been installed.

In the United States, net neutrality is living its last days. The telecoms regulator is preparing to adopt measures that will leave the way open to Internet service providers while resistance is organized as it can, without much belief.

To fully understand what this means, we must first have in mind what the principle of net neutrality implies. Its essence could be summed up like this: it is the idea that anything that circulates on the Internet must be able to do so without discrimination. Equal information flows allow egalitarian access to the network: the user has access to the same thing as his neighbor, regardless of his income level. He also has the same rights of expression, framed by the law. Unlike traditional media, the Internet is a form of information democracy in which there is no second-class Internet user.

However, this principle is considered uneconomic by the three major US service providers – Verizon, Comcast and AT & T – who campaign for its killing. In other words, these companies want to be able to put on the market currently prohibited offers: priority access to the network for a fee, bouquets with exclusive Web services, different prices on bandwidth consumption, etc. Basically, the end of Net Neutrality would be the beginning of deregulation.

Risk of a two-speed Internet

This perspective is far from being desired by all digital players. Thus, almost all of Silicon Valley is opposed, but also many specialists of the Web and its networks. While everything predisposes the Trump administration to get rid of the neutrality of the Net, the popular grumbling is organized, even knowing its minimal chances:

Shared fear? See the Internet become a two-speed space, with one side that can afford to pay a high speed, the other those who would not have access to all content.

The idea that all Internet users must be treated identically is a real safeguard to preserve the democratic dimension of the Web. While Barack Obama was President of the United States at the time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed an important principle in February 2015: the American Internet was becoming “public good”. A decision that de facto prohibited access providers to block content or have control over the speed of data flows according to the price paid by a user. Except that the arrival of Donald Trump has changed everything, since the new American president has never hidden his intention to unravel the neutrality of the Net. Even before his election, a letter signed by 150 people from Sillicon Valleyalready raised concerns about the future of the neutral Internet. By appointing Ajit Pai, a former adviser to a US operator who is firmly opposed to neutrality, to the head of the FCC, Donald Trump was throwing his dice.

Surf, you are observed

You have probably already heard this person “who does not see the harm that there is to be scrutinized on the Net” say: “I have nothing to hide after all”. Imagine filming you every day and then using what you see of your activities to resell your personal data or pay for things à la carte. This is the same principle that is at stake with the neutrality of the Net, as shown in this article by Numerama who imagined cases of the French, or this infographic of the Washington Post which quoted in 2014 on what could look like a net without the neutrality that protects it:

tiered internet net neutrality
tiered internet net neutrality

In detail, US users may see their Internet consumption suddenly analyzed and payable à la carte, so. In France, it’s a bit like the Altice group, which owns Libération, suddenly had the power to charge you for reading articles posted by another media. Scary, no?

For the moment, the European framework seems fortunately rather opposed to such a deregulation. But the protection of net neutrality is sometimes hidden in interstices to watch. For example, the zero rating , a practice consisting in offering unlimited access to certain services (so without counting them as a fixed price), clearly conflicts with net neutrality: attractive, since it allows for an “extra” offer for subscriber (for example, when the operator has a partnership with YouTube or Spotify, to name a few), it is nonetheless unfairly competitive for other operators. On this point, the Berec (our European FCC) does not prohibit the zero rating but proposes to frame the practices in order to avoid that one service is more put forward than another.

If the fate of American net neutrality in this case does not affect our way of sailing, we must bear in mind that the American example can always be prescribing. After all, if there is one thing that knows no boundaries, it’s the Internet.

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