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Net Neutrality: What it means and why you should care

Net Neutrality: What does it mean?

How would you feel if your internet provider decided they would charge you a premium to use your favourite websites? We won't presume to know your answer, but this, in a nutshell, is the main public concern regarding net neutrality. For those unaware, in November 2017 the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its plan to dismantle the regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, known as 'net neutrality'.

How would you feel if your internet provider decided they would charge you a premium to use your favourite websites?

What this means is that American internet service providers (ISPs) will be able to alter their pricing structures and then be able to charge users for the way they use the service, rather than having customers pay a single fee for data that can be used as they see fit. These companies will then be able to create what commentators are referring to as a "fast lane" and a "slow lane".

For example, an ISP might partner with a company such as Netflix and they could then legally prevent access to other streaming services like Amazon Video or Hulu unless you pay for a more expensive internet plan. In this sense, free access to any legal website could be restricted, how heavily determined by your internet provider and their affiliations.

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Does net neutrality matter?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that he supports an open internet, and believes removing restrictions on the internet's free market will generate growth in the telecommunications sector. He describes the former regulations as being a remnant of last century, put into place prior to the internet's widespread proliferation. Despite this claim, in 2015 the FCC updated and enforced the regulations in favour of net neutrality. This rapid change in attitude can generally be attributed to the change of administration.

The new regulations may well generate economic growth, and that's certainly nothing to scoff at, but is this growth worth restricting free access to information? At the time of writing, the regulations have not yet been eliminated and we don't know exactly what will happen, but we'll be watching the situation in the United States closely as it unfolds.

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How will it affect Australia?

For consumers, the biggest potential drawback comes in paying for US based services. Take Spotify, for example. If Spotify were to pay a US ISP to include their services in a particular plan, they would doubtlessly increase the cost to consumers of using their service as a way to offset their increased overheads. This could mean that the price of these services goes up across the board, not just in the US, but here in Australia as well.

For businesses, it's even trickier. Online retailers, for example, who sell to Americans will be relying on American ISPs to allow their US-based customers to access their store. Australian businesses with partners or staff in the United States may be pushed to reconfigure their communications strategies.

Australia itself has no regulations on net neutrality.

Australia itself, however, has no regulations on net neutrality. Some local ISPs are already actively against it. One of these local companies actually proposed a structure for putting premiums on popular streaming platforms in 2015. Across the ditch, a Kiwi telco has already done this, promoting a "social data" add-on which offers data for exclusive use on Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.

In theory, Australian ISPs could legally do their worst, but at this time public opinion is heavily weighted towards net neutrality. There is now an additional risk that the bold move made by the FCC might empower local companies to take their own steps against neutrality.

In the meantime, it's best to stick with someone you can trust. Having the right IT support will make a huge difference when the cogs start turning. LOOKUP.com offer complete managed services and we'll be there to help navigate the storm. Get in contact to find out more. 

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