DollarsAndSense explains the treatment of the Internet and Singapore’s stand on net neutrality.
The recent set of new rules by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) along with the announcement that the U.S. government will continue to ensure net neutrality may not appear to be impactful news to Singapore. However, we shouldn’t just brush it off.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality refers to the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. In other words, no companies are allowed to block nor slow access to any website on the web just to benefit themselves. For example, if Company A was the highest bidder and therefore could create cyber fast lanes to their own website; then smaller companies that could not outbid Company A would lose out – an uneven distribution of traffic on all networks would result.
This happens because there are companies that can afford to pay for quicker cyber lanes, usually giant companies such as Google, Comcast and AT&T, which smaller content companies like Etsy and Tumblr are not able to.
The Case For Net Neutrality…
Proponents for net neutrality argue that differential pricing will make it tougher for new companies (entrants) to compete with the giant tech firms (incumbents), who have the finances to purchase access to fast lanes and hence, the ability to offer a better user experience. Sounds unfair? U.S. President Obama agrees and earlier this month, had asked for the strongest possible rules from the FCC to safeguard net neutrality.
Under the set of new rules, the Internet will be reclassified as a public utility and hence, regulated as such. This would mean that the FCC will have the ability to prevent cable and telecommunications companies from controlling what people see on the Web.
…But Not Everyone Agrees. Here Is Why.
Although Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not against bans to prevent blocking or discrimination, they see the possible danger of discouraging investment in the costly network infrastructure due to stricter regulations.
In fact, the set of new rules signified a change in the U.S. stance on information services. Previously, the Internet was left unregulated and seen as part of a private sector activity but now, the Internet will be treated as a public good where people should have the rights to access to it, like how they do with basic necessities such as water and power.
What About Singapore?
The call for net neutrality may not have much impact on the status quo in Singapore for the time being. Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) as the regulator for the industry has found a balance between safeguarding consumers and the business interests of ISPs. The current guidelines stated that ISPs are allowed to sell ‘fast lanes’ for a fee as long as they retain and maintain the good service levels to the average user. In addition, ISPs are prohibited from blocking legitimate Internet content nor can they tweak the accessibility to websites, services or applications to the extent that they are unusable.
However, it should be noted that IDA did not completely ban ‘clogging’ or traffic restrictions. Therefore, it is true that many ISPs here do control peer-to-peer traffic, made up mostly of Bit-Torrent file-switching activities. This is because they use up huge amounts of bandwidth; hence the rationale from telcos is that they have the right to optimize the use of their network resources.
Should Internet Access Be A Human Right?
Increasingly, countries are viewing the access to Internet as a mandatory human right. Aside from the United States, other countries such as France, Greece and Costa Rica have long granted individuals the access to Internet as a constitutional right. To date, though, only three nations (Brazil, Chile and the Netherlands) have formally authorized net neutrality as a legal requirement. What is certain in the long run is, ironically, the uncertainty of how net neutrality can actually be obeyed and abided by words in black and white.
Image from Getty Images. Used with appreciation.
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