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Lifestyle magazine and events in Marseille : The Net neutrality in danger in the United States
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The Net neutrality in danger in the United States

12/14/2017

It is a Web founding principle as we know. The Net neutrality guarantees the equal treatment of all the flows of data in the network without discrimination. For the user, it means that the access to a site can be neither blocked nor even slowed down except court order, attack or congestion of the network. The neutrality assures the access to the information and its free distribution in a non-discriminatory, fair and transparent (transparente) way.

End the Net neutrality to free the market

A part of the Net actors feels a little swindled in this principle: they are Internet access providers (IAP). In fact, they are those who guarantee the access of Internet users to the services of the content producers. Yet, some of them are accused of taking advantage of the Net neutrality. Target groups are Web 2.0 mastodons as Google or Facebook. In fact, because of their services’ successes, they have a special consumption of bandwidth which is created with the IAP expenses. For example, the platform of video on Netflix demand represented more than 35% of the Internet traffic in the rush hours in 2016. A real-life situation experienced as inequitable by IAP which is estimated to pass the juicy profits generated by this economy when they are the backbone that provides necessary investments for the functioning and the improvement of the network. But this injustice feeling will soon be ancient history.

The IAP was an important ally with President Donald Trump who was in charge of the regulator of the American telecoms, FCC, Ajit Pai, in 2017. This one is a historic opponent of the Net neutrality. For a very good reason: Pai is the former member of General Council of Verizon, a company of telecommunication specialized in mobile services and one of the main American operators. A first dike had jumped last March when the Congress had cancelled the ban made for the operators to block or slow down the access to the site contents of their choice. Then, in November, Ajit Pai attacked the dam by presenting an order questioning the provisions adopted by the Obama administration in 2015 which guaranteed the respect for the Net neutrality by IAP. Argument invoked: the market of the Internet access must be free and undistorted by the state regulation. Access providers should be able to fix rates as they hear about them; the consumers would be able to know thanks to the offer and request there. All would allow to boost the investments in networks and create jobs where the Obama’s policy was most likely destroyed according to Pai, even if a study of Free Press Association has relativized this argument.  

The vote of the text which takes place on December 14th in FCC is almost assured because the commission is with republican majority. A reaction of the Congress is improbable because it is also dominated by the republicans. From its part, the population feels little concerned by this technical debate which seems to be far from the daily concerns.

Nevertheless, it is very likely that the abrogation of the Net neutrality has an impact on the ordinary Internet user. The American operators like Verizon, AT&T or Comcast will have free rein to reduce subscriptions on demand, favoring their services at the other expenses. We can imagine that they pay the full rate for the access to certain services, or at least the favorable access (with a good speed of connection). Everything is (almost) possible: the increase of the connection speed for certain applications, contents’ emphasis to others’ detriment even the prohibition to access some services or sites, all the rates adapted to the situation. One might say that the invoice risks to be salted for those who wishes to have an optimized browsing.

Is it threatened freedom of expression?

The mobilization against the questioning of the Net  neutrality came from a heterogeneous coalition including defenders of personal freedoms as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and companies of the digital technology like Netflix, Pinterest, Spotify, Facebook or even Google. All in all, there are more than 200 entities which have organized a virtual demonstration on July 12th against the vague desires of Ajit Pai.

Since the stakes are not economic, there is a matter of the freedom of expression and the foundation of the American democracy. By offering operators the right to discriminate between the access to the contents, only the producers close to the latter having the way to pay the use of their "tips" according to the usual image will obtain the right of citizenship.

But this argument can become against the giants of the digital technology, which does not hesitate to go without Ajit Pai. Are the products of Google and Facebook really neutral? Don’t these companies also have a policy of contents? After all, when a start-up wishes to take out an application on smart phone, it has the choice only between two stores: one of Google and the other of Apple. Yet, both have to give their prior authorization. Isn’t it a brake in the innovation? Wouldn’t it be advisable to stimulate the competition?

And then we?

A priori, the end of the Net neutrality in the United States gains few chances to have an impact in Europe and France, at least initially. In 2015, the European Parliament adopted a regulation which introduces the right of the European Union to the principle of the Net neutrality, even for an association like the Net’s Quadrature, there was room for improvement.

Moreover, this legal framework is not incompatible with "zero rating". This one consists of offering an unlimited access to a particular service besides your fixed package limited in data. This practice is accepted as long as it does not favor a service. Nevertheless, it sometimes seems to flirt with the questioning of the Net neutrality. Therefore, in Portugal, the historic IAP offers, in addition to fixed packages, paying packs providing specific services as the favored access to social networks. At the moment, the Portuguese regulator did not pronounce.

It is possible that the policy of the American administration produces a dead-weight effect in favour of Europe which would position then as a continent having a clear, precise and long-term vision of what must be the Internet, guaranteeing its neutrality and the private life of the Internet users. But some listen another side of the story. The current director of Orange Stéphane Richard considers that an Internet at several speeds is an "obligation" because of the Internet development of the objects which will require particular Internet. From the part of the ARECP director (the Authority of Regulation of Electronic Communications and Posts in France) glimpses a future when the Kindle’s model (the Amazon’s reader who gives an access only to the catalog of the online sale platform) would become widespread.

Moreover, it is far from being excluded that GAFA has a voice to tell about the subject. They could be the tomorrow operators. Facebook has already been willing to work by offering the free mobile Internet access in India. Problem: only products and services of the social network were available. Result: the Indian regulator of telecoms forbade this type of offer.

In the name of the Net neutrality.

Article written by Thierry Randretsa

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