Not only do we often use tools that we know little about, but we also ignore the contradictions hiding behind them: that’s the case of the Internet and the so-called «Net Neutrality».
What «Net Neutrality» is
According to the most widespread feeling, a net is “neutral” when it does not undergo arbitrary restrictions: simply put, it ideally must not discriminate between the various services that it offers to users. There is a concern that those who have control over a net (telecommunication companies, also called providers) may abuse their position, introducing a sort of charging system to create a hierarchy of contents: this means that ratings would be based exclusively on the ability to pay, thus making it impossible to access to certain sites, services, or applications.
If we want to analyze the matter further, we can’t but consider IP packets, that is each sequence of data transmitted on the Net: in the not too distant future, in order to guarantee efficient performance on a more and more congested Web, a reorganization of the enormous amount of information in circulation is likely to be needed, giving different levels of priority to each packet (thereby preferring information that was given higher priority.)
The problem lies in understanding what criteria are going to be used, since there is a risk -mentioned earlier- that the yardstick would be purely economic. The consequences of such a commercial approach -in a negative sense- entail the chance that it could lead to dangerous outcomes, such as making “inconvenient” information or services inaccessible (under the guise of low profitability).
America and Europe: a comparison between legal systems
In the USA the debate is particularly lively and a decision was made only recently: On 26th February 2015 the Federal Communications Commission established that the Internet is “neutral” and must remain so: connection providers cannot discriminate traffic on the Net by giving different speeds or putting arbitrary filters, because one of the Net’s fundamental characteristics is exactly its “neutrality” (which so far has guaranteed its freedom too.)
Europe has expressed itself after few months, on 27th October 2015, although adopting a puzzling piece of legislation: several experts argue that the decisions of the European Parliament grant excessive power to telecommunication companies, so that they can reserve “priority lanes” for certain services (obviously at the expense of others, which can be made slower under the pretext of “decongesting” traffic.)
In Italy the question is even thornier, since in order to give to each packet the above-mentioned priority, providers should have the possibility to analyze data transmitted by users, which means violating people’s privacy (according to Privacy Code, Legislative Decree No 196 of 30th June 2003 and its subsequent amendments.)
If you still haven’t understood what we are talking about, don’t worry. Our friend Michael Goodwin will help us: his graphic novel “Net Neutrality: what it is and why you should care” discusses it further with the acumen and irony that characterize him, making the issue simple even for those who know little about ICT.
With great pride, as usual, we make available the PDF in Italian to the readers of Capethicalism, but you can read it in English too from here.
PENNY & JUPE
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