Reports say, the United States’ Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to repeal a set of regulations which ensure what has become known as ‘net neutrality’.
The decision has been seen as a victory for ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and a defeat for campaigners of a free and democratic internet.
While the decision will have enormous implications for those living in the United States there are already signs that it will have an impact on the UK and even Europe as a whole.
Net neutrality quite simply describes a set of regulations that prevent internet providers (UK examples being Virgin, BT, Sky and Plusnet) from throttling internet speeds to certain services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
Currently when you browse the internet at home, every website and service you visit gets the same internet speed. That is the founding principle of net neutrality.
In the US these laws were enshrined in an extremely old piece of legislation called Title II of the Communications Act 1934. Under this law it effectively forced large networks to act responsibly and under the acceptance that they were providing a public service.
It is this law that has now been repealed in the US and it is precisely why there has been such a strong outcry from open rights campaigners and rather unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley.
Unlike the UK, the US doesn’t have a particularly competitive market around internet and telecommunications companies.
The FCC has been trying to find ways to increase competition among the biggest players such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon and it believes that by scrapping these regulations it can do that.
The FCC’s chairman Ajit Pai believes “broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
Effectively by removing this level playing field it will allow ISPs to offer a greater number of packages.
Net neutrality is vigorously protected in the UK under the European Union’s regulation on Open Internet Access.
Commenting on change to US net neutrality rules, Andrew Glover, Chair of the UK Internet Services Providers Association Council, said:
“The changes to net neutrality rules in the US do not have an impact on customers of UK ISPs. For a long time, UK providers have been committed to preserving an open internet through a voluntary code.
“More recently, strict EU rules have come into force which clearly state that ‘providers of internet access services shall treat all traffic equally, when providing internet access services, without discrimination, restriction or interference’.”
While that protects our broadband speeds we are already seeing some worrying evidence of this creeping into our smartphone packages.
Data is still considered a precious commodity in relation to our smartphones, especially as we move more into an age of streaming over downloading.
EE for example will give customers free Apple Music subscriptions and perhaps more crucially it won’t count the data you use streaming music through Apple Music.
The same can’t be said for Spotify which EE still counts towards your data.
Another example is Virgin Media which has said that on certain plans it will not count the data you use on Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
Finally Vodafone has taken things a step further and started creating paid packages that let you have unlimited data use through certain services. The video pass for example gives you unlimited data use through YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, TVPlayer, My5, and Vevo and costs £9 per month. You’ll notice it doesn’t include BBC iPlayer, Sky Q or Twitch.
One of the important aspects to consider here is Brexit. As part of the UK’s choice to leave the European Union the Great Repeal Bill aim to transfer many of the EU laws we currently use into UK law.
Because net neutrality is currently protected under EU law there’s nothing to stop MPs from making amendments to it or even removing it completely as they move the regulations over to the UK, however it’s very likely there would be strong opposition to this.