Could you imagine having to wait an extra day, every time you tried to check out a book from the library unless you paid?
Currently, more than half of the world’s population is able to access the internet, communicate across the world, buy and sell products globally, and research any topic that you can imagine. The additional benefit of this array of actions is that it all happens almost instantaneously. The internet is the largest base of information with the quickest access in the world, and that is its purpose; to provide a source and a medium for obtaining and publishing information in the fastest way possible.
The internet is unbiased, which means anyone with internet connection is allowed to access any readily available website or internet service freely and without having to wait. If everyone was given the same upload and download speed on their internet connection, each website would load in the same time frame. This is called ‘net neutrality’.
However, ‘net neutrality’ is currently an issue being debated and lobbied against all around the world.
All internet traffic is made possible thanks to the connection services provided by ISPs, through which all information generated on the internet passes through and is stored. This gives ISPs the power to control which websites their customers can view and actions they can carry out by blocking websites and throttling internet connections (throttling is the act of slowing one’s internet connection).
ISPs have been doing just this. They have been blocking websites and throttling connections to websites they deem ‘less important’. This is a situation that has been ongoing in countries like China whose government is the country’s sole ISP. Currently, ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are lobbying the US Government to abolish net neutrality.
In the case of ISPs in the United States, they are lobbying for the ability to create a ‘fast-lane’ for certain websites or internet services that pay the ISPs extra money so people can access their sites and services faster. For websites that do not pay, traffic will be slowed to a state where the website or service will take extra time to load, or slowed to the point where the service might not load at all.
The throttling and blocking of certain websites should, and is considered by many to be a violation of the sentiments put forth by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
The move by ISPs to disregard net neutrality jeopardizes the internet’s status as a medium for people to receive information and ideas without interference. They are controlling the speed at which certain information loads, if it loads at all, and therefore takes away our ability to access information without bias.
What are the ramifications of being unable to access information without bias?
It could change election results, negatively manipulate public opinion, and restrict free speech. ISPs’ power to influence what we can and cannot access makes the difference between being informed about current issues and being able to access Netflix more easily.
A non-neutral Internet also allows promotion of certain news networks or political materials. This, then, becomes a violation of freedom of opinion as well, as we would be delayed in or restricted from obtaining information relevant to our opinions, and have them put second place to agenda put forth by ISPs.
Finally, the revelation of ‘Fake News’ in current news and popular culture, may truly become a reality without net-neutrality. If you are able to control information, you are able to influence the beliefs of those who are being fed.
It is a fear of many these days that they will be brainwashed into following an agenda which they did not consent to. We hope that we are being provided the services that we were promised, by being able to access the internet and its wealth of knowledge. So that we may stay ‘in the loop’ and be able to make informed decisions that will benefit us and those around us.
There will be an ongoing fight to protect net neutrality, and in consequence, also the rights set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for years. Thus it is imperative that we continue to fight for it if we wish to keep the internet a platform that is accessible by anyone.
Written by: James Heanny