Telecommunication providers may not like it, but the Netherlands have netneutrality. In other words, every data packet flowing through the lines of a Dutch Internet Service Provider is to be regarded as equal. However, some people still tend to think this is an unjustifiable interference with the free market. Therefore, we should recognise the important reasons for netneutrality. It, in fact, protects the free market, instead of harming it. Additionally, a lack of netneutrality implicitly vows for deep packet inspection. Finally, it protects the Internet.
Netneutrality became part of the European digital debate in 2007, when the European Commission decided that it was unneeded – much to the disapproval of certain members of the European Parliament. The European Commission found that existing competition legislation should protect citizens enough against abuse by telecommunication providers, and, thus, that there is no need for explicit netneutrality.
In 2011, the debate was fuelled by a large Dutch provider. This provider announced to set an extra fee on Skype calls, WhatsApp messages and other comparable services. From the point of view of the provider, this is a logical move, since the number of phone calls and SMS messages has been declining for years. Nevertheless, this enraged members of the Dutch parliament, resulting in a quick adoption of netneutrality.
If we look at the non-mobile parts of the Internet, we know that certain providers would like to ask large companies responsible for a lot of traffic, such as Google, for extra payments. Besides that this is a ridiculous preposition anyway, as those companies already pay for the large bandwidth they use to their Internet Service Provider, this is also an infringement of the netneutrality.
Not Interference, But Protection of the Free Market
As can been seen from the move of the large Dutch providers, a lack of netneutrality results in protectionism. Traditional phone and messaging services are starting to die out, which is perfectly normal in a free market: old services die when new replacements emerge. Comparable to the way the entertainment industry has been acting for years, the telecommunication sector started to look for methods to suppress the innovation, in favour of saving their traditional business model.
The example of asking providers of online services for additional payments shows another way innovation is stumped. It will be harder to open your web service when this leads to all sorts of bills from providers your users use, because those users wanted to visit your website. Especially when those providers get already paid for their services by their users – which they apparently decided to be not enough. At this point, we have not even discussed how availability attacks, e.g. (D)DoS’es, are dealt with.
At this point, the opposition of netneutrality will tell you to simply switch providers. However, all mobile operators have the same problem, as they all live of traditional phone usage. To paint the picture: at the point this debate was stirred up in the Netherlands, almost all large mobile providers decided upon some sort of interference with the neutrality of their networks. In addition, commonly, phone contracts run for two years, which makes a direct change nearly impossible without having to continue paying your old provider.
At this point, I do not think the traditional competition legislation is going to make the difference. Mostly, because the competition between the different telecommunication providers is working great. Although they are laying their views down upon their customers and interfering with the changes of novel technologies, they do compete with each other on terms of smart phones, network quality, and costs per minute.
Deep Packet Inspection: Breaking Netneutrality Requires Breaking Privacy
In the example with the Dutch mobile provider, the CEO was proud to announce they were able to differentiate between “normal” Internet usage and Voice-over-IP usage. This is done using deep packet inspection. In other words, they look inside every packet your mobile device sends, to decide whether it should be charged extra money.
The fact that most of the infringements of netneutrality are not possible without analysing and looking at one’s traffic is a huge reason to have netneutrality. Charging Facebook for the traffic heading towards them cannot be done without looking at the packets to see whether they are intended for Facebook. Charging Skype calls cannot be done without looking inside packets to see whether they are Skype calls. The fact that a CEO is proud to announce that they are reading through your mail to decide which letters should be more expensive is incomprehensible.
Keep The Internet As It Should Be
I already discussed this point before: the Internet is built from decentralised and neutral networks, which is what makes it so powerful. If we are going to let a bunch of uncompetitive companies break the very heart of the Internet, we will be left empty handed. The netneutrality is part of the driving factors of the digital economy: there is always room for innovation and economic participation.
Netneutrality is needed to protect the openness of the Internet. When the roads of the web get controlled by a small number of entities, the open availability to all citizens will decline. It would be a shame when you are not only paying for a certain connection with a certain data limit or speed limit, but also for the way others decide to interact with you and their usage of the Internet in relation to your usage.
Netneutrality: For the Free Market, Not Against It
The free digital market is protected by netneutrality. We should not be supporting uncompetitive companies, whether they are in entertainment or telecommunications. Additionally, the Internet is a wonderful thing, which needs to be preserved. But, most of all, privacy is not to be sacrificed just to be able to squeeze some extra cash from your customers.
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