Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Southampton's online course, Web Science: How the Web Is Changing the World. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds PROFESSOR LES CARR: The internet has been considered a human right because it has really good effects on people. And we would like to maintain that. Now originally, the internet was paid for by government money. But that was because it was small and focused. And it was aimed at a particular kind of activity. Now, it became an important and much, much more mainstream activity, which has to be funded by organisations other than the government. And so it is being funded privately. So people pay for access to the internet through their ISPs, through their internet service providers. Now, one of the problems that we see is that not everyone can afford access to the internet.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds And so there must be some way of creating and expanding the internet, but doing so in an affordable way.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds Now, there are some steps being taken by governments and by private companies. Silicon Valley and other innovation companies throughout the world have not only a commercial role but a social role to play. And they undertake social missions that the governments cannot afford or are not involved in. The innovations that industry brings can affect and can be effective for all kinds of people. But strict net neutrality regulations, which hamper the commercial prospects of these companies means that the social good that they can do is limited as well.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds If you take the example of internet.org, Facebook’s attempt to bring the internet and internet services to Africa, to communities where people cannot afford smart phones, where people cannot afford internet connectivity and data plans, then yes. These are basic services. Yes, they’re interpreted to very limited devices. And they have chosen content providers working with them. So it’s not open. It is very focused, but it is better than not doing anything. And even such a constrained intervention can positively change the lives of people by providing access to useful and transformative information.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds Similarly, Project Loon, Google’s attempt to provide 4g style data sharing services, to bring internet to new communities, by releasing balloons into the stratosphere, this may be a private company doing something there. They may be getting benefit from the data that they collect. But the service that they provide is invaluable. It is a matter of balances, not of strict absolutes of saying no, you must do things in one way and you are not allowed to do things in another way. We need to find a way in which commercial partners can deliver social good. Government are making some compromises in this direction.

Skip to 4 minutes and 14 seconds So we have seen that the recent EU legislation while trying to reign back some of the ISPs’ activities, so phasing out data roaming charges across the EU, allows the establishing of a fast lane internet. So having a new premium lane in the internet for services that really need fast data. That is seen as a reasonable compromise by guaranteeing that the open internet will stay open and will have the net neutrality regulations, but giving some quid pro quo to the companies. The thing that many people worry about net neutrality is government interference in commercial activity. And in artificially limiting the innovation that the principal is supposed to encourage.

Skip to 5 minutes and 30 seconds And so for many people, this act is suspicious and worrying because it is simply imposing some kind of draconian rule without really understanding what the benefits are. Tight regulation has been proven to kill competition. And in an area or an environment where ISPs are competing with each other to provide better services at better prices, then we need to see some kind of competitive element operating here, and allowing service providers the freedom to do that. It’s also true that we can’t treat all data equally. So video streaming, of course, is different to sending emails out. The quantities of data and its timeliness are really important.

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 seconds And it is expensive and difficult from an engineering sense to ensure that video streaming infrastructures are robust and fit their task. And there are cost implications about that. Nicholas Negroponte, a famous researcher from MIT, has made the pacemaker argument that you really do want to have some data treated differently. Because if someone’s pacemaker is sending information to a hospital over the internet and their life depends on this information flowing freely and in a timely fashion, then it really does need to be treated specially and to have separate consideration given to it.

Skip to 7 minutes and 23 seconds So the argument against net neutrality is that it’s a consideration that comes from a previous age and that is not relevant to a world in which the internet is delivered by private companies who need to compete in order to deliver a better service.

Arguments against ...

In this video, of Professor Les Carr presents some arguments against net neutrality.

Here Les takes a less idealistic and more pragmatic position. He recognises that we may have to compromise certain aspects of net neutrality in order to satisfy the needs of the corporations who maintain the internet.

You may be interested in further articles supporting the case against net neutrality. These are available from links in the See Also section at the bottom of this page.

Are you convinced by these arguments? What other arguments can you think of against net neutrality?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Web Science: How the Web Is Changing the World

University of Southampton

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: