Net neutrality began as a campaign promise by U.S. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Shortly after his historic 8-year term began, the idea of a free and open internet became a reality when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced a set of protections that would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking websites or imposing limits.
Since their introduction in May 2010, these protections have been challenged, appealed, and even overturned! Following support from the Obama Administration and almost 4 million Americans, it was on February 26th, 2015 that the FCC voted in favour of strong net neutrality rules, recognizing how essential a free and open internet is for innovation, communication, development, and growth. Unfortunately, this support has been short lived, with the FCC (under the current U.S. administration) voting to scrap regulations protecting net neutrality on December 14th, 2017.
Net neutrality has been a key factor in the development and growth of the “internet revolution”. Our society has flourished with new ideas and technologies that have paved the way for IoT, IIoT, and Industry 4.0, however ISPs have long sought to overcome these rules in a bid to increase profits and gain greater control. Whilst this shift will eventually affect everything online, it’s unlikely to hinder the growth of our IoT-based society, rather create an unequal playground for businesses within it.
Real-time monitoring remains a critical component of our devices, and regardless of the data they transfer, their effectiveness to consumers is tied to their ability to operate freely. By granting ISPs more control over the internet, we’re also giving them a monopoly over how it can be used and it’s likely, once net neutrality has gone completely, that the larger providers will take advantage of this opportunity and prioritize access. Examples could include:
- Looking online for a photographer in your area but only getting the results of those who have a contract with your ISP
- Asking your smart assistant for the weather only for it recommend a more expensive package if you want a faster response
- Needing special access for connected machinery and being told you need to pay a higher rate
The Oxford Dictionary defines net neutrality as: “The principle that Internet Service Providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.” Removing any regulations will fundamentally change what the internet is and what it can become.
Whilst the U.S. faces a battle for the internet’s freedom, other countries remain committed to a free and open internet – France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, South Korea and Canada to name a few. As more industries enter the connected age, the power that ISPs could soon hold will become a key factor in the development of new technologies and the markets they can operate in.