Journal

How young people see the abolition of net neutrality

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Free competition between websites is an illusion already

Net neutrality, what actually is it?

The principle refers to internet service providers (ISPs) not being able to give preference to certain sites. They can’t speed up, slow down or block access to certain websites. All are treated equally from this neutral standpoint. This means that ISPs such as BT and Sky Broadband cannot favour any sites, for love nor money.

But, following the abolition of net neutrality at the hands of President Donald Trump, money will now be able to buy faster broadband access in the United States.

The BBC aptly depicts this as the ‘fast lane’ in net traffic. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (now fashionably called the FANGs) are among the most popular and most wealthy internet companies which will likely be able to access this new broadband ‘fast lane’.

Despite the huge resources these FANGs wield, the extra costs the demise of net neutrality will bring about may end up being paid by consumers, who will be charged more to access these popular sites.

There are political implications to this too.

The notion that ISPs can give preference to paying sites and block those that they disagree with is arguably a worrying threat to free speech. Tom, an alumnus of legal outreach organisation Big Voice London who now studies law at Oxford, sees this change as handicapping the ability of smaller platforms to express their views.

“This is an extension of people with money buying politicians to make laws,” he says. Moneyed web companies will have too much sway over internet consumers, he fears, adding:

“The phrase slippery slope is thrown around a lot, but it really does apply here. Aside from choking competition, this could stifle freedom of information and free expression from smaller platforms, which is very negative for informed democracy.”

Ben is another alumnus of Big Voice. He is sceptical of the idea that the new net neutrality laws are a threat to democracy. “It’s not that serious,” he shrugs his shoulders. “If I want to exercise my right to freedom of information, a few seconds of extra buffering time is not going to get in the way. The idea of ISPs being able to block sites that they disagree with is very unnerving, but in practice this causes such public outrage that any attempts always get backtracked.”

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An example of this is when Verizon tried to block a pro-choice organisation from accessing its network in 2007. Public opposition caused Verizon to retract this move. Ben is unperturbed by this repeal: “We can’t kid ourselves that some websites don’t already get internet priority. Just look at Google search results. It’s completely obvious.”

Ben is not alone in believing that bias already exists in search results.

There are many who accuse engines of performing search engine manipulation to favour sites holding a particular political bias. Evidence suggests that their algorithm promotes right-wing sites, both through autocomplete suggestions and its top-suggested sites. Some believe that this contributed to the recent rise of conservative political leaders.

Even if this sinister kind of search engine manipulation wasn’t at play, its more innocent-looking cousin, ‘search engine optimisation’ is unabashedly present. Search engines prioritise results with the most views. This inevitably means that most well-known sites appear in the top results, while smaller, independently-run sources are hidden away pages and pages below in the results list. Either way, the idea that the internet is a completely neutral place where there is free competition between all websites is an illusion.

It is as of yet uncertain what will come of the repeal of net neutrality laws in the US. The opening of the debate has thrown into question whether net neutrality will be repealed in the UK. However, in view of the well-established monopoly that exists online already, many may debate whether complete neutrality is something that can exist on the internet at all.

Vivian Matthews is a soon-to-be law student at Cambridge University. She is currently a board member of Big Voice London, a charity helping to give young people from non-traditional backgrounds a voice in law and legal policy.

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Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We'd be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.

8 Comments

Anonymous

Young people generally don’t see the abolition of net neutrality at all. Stop overestimating our engagement with the world around us.

Anonymous

I just wanted to comment on that paid for “careers” article where the lawyer talks about being a DJ when he was younger.

This all experience is good experience line just goes to show how moronic and inane the Human Resources / recruitment sector has become over the last two decades. A bunch of people who have never had to do anything approaching the job they are hiring to, putting people in that job after an arbitrary tick box exercise.

It’s an incredibly easy system to game once you get the hang of their inane points scoring systems, and doesn’t produce the best candidates.

Oh for a return for the days of the sniff test, when people who actually do the job arrived at a simple decision as to whether the candidate was a good fit. Add in modern diversity measures and hey presto, you have destroyed 90% of the modern HR industry and saved the economy millions in the process.

Anonymous

You sound like you are an expert on the recruitment process. Just to be clear as to what you are advocating, am I right in thinking that you believe that it should be the Partners and Senior Associates at law firms who deal with every application, talk to the external agencies (who will become redundant of course), resource/headhunt hard to find candidates to save on recruitment fees and manage the onboarding process?

Trendspotter 5000

We’ve had some really good LC Journal articles in the past. This isn’t one of them.

Anonymous

Why do you say that? I think it is a very clear explanation of the concept of net neutrality and shows good engagement with the issues. Better than anything I could have written pre-uni.

Jeff S. Matthews

I suppose you’re either another Legal Cheek Journalist or someone who failed to make the cut? Only someone insecure about their own abilities could hate someone with so much potential. Get a life and work harder.

Jeastilini

This is a great article and that Ben fellow knows what’s up

Anonymous

I would highly recommend the author to do some basic research on the topic.

There is a difference between “net neutrality”, network management, ranking the content by search engines or blocking and filtering of content. These are all totally different issues and concepts and the author mixes them and treats them as the same.

Net neutrality means that the “packets” (which carry content across the Internet) must NOT be treated differently based on their origin, destination, or service provider, or on the basis of the kind of service or application. For example, network management is a concept which is perfectly appropriate if content, applications or services are treated equally. E..g. it is ok to give a higher speed for video, as if there is one second delay (such as when watching a movie or listening to music), but it makes no difference if there is on second delay for email. However, it would be a problem if the provider gives preferential treatment to Netflix or BBC player but slows the speed for videos from some other outlets. This would be discriminatory and improper network management.

There is also a lot of literature and standards on blocking or filtering or search engines. But this is not the problem of net neutrality.

All of these are rather technical concepts and one needs to strive to understand them better than claiming these are not problems one should worry about.

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