Net neutrality changes: What does it mean for New Zealand?

In late 2017, the United States FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, repealed the net neutrality regulations that were established in 2015 to ensure an open and fair internet for all consumers and content providers.

Repealing the changes means that internet service providers are perfectly positioned to control bandwidth and internet speeds, favouring services that pay higher premiums or are owned by the internet providers themselves.

But what does this actually mean for the everyday internet user?

What is Net Neutrality?

Before we get into the FCC ruling, let’s take a look at the principle of Net Neutrality.

Wikipedia explains it best, defining it as follows:

‘Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat all data on the internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication … under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content’.

As you can see, net neutrality is a fairness guideline that means all websites and content providers are treated equally, regardless of who owns them or what they offer.

Why should you care?

Though it sounds like only businesses and content providers will be affected by any repeal of net neutrality, the reality is, if content providers such as Netflix have to pay extra to make sure their shows and movies download more quickly than a competitor, these costs are likely to be directly passed on to the consumer.

The Washington Post explains: “For example, under the net neutrality rules Verizon was not allowed to favor Yahoo and AOL, which it owns, by blocking Google. In addition, Verizon was not be allowed to charge Google extra fees in order to connect to Verizon customers.”

Without net neutrality regulations, internet service providers could favour their own content over that of competitors or charge competitors a higher premium to get access to their customers.

What repealed net neutrality means for NZ

The impact of the FCC’s repeal is likely to be felt primarily in the US, though the realities of a controlled internet are still a little way off for us down under.

While neither New Zealand or Australia have net neutrality regulations in place to prevent such a landscape developing here, we also don’t currently have the issue of big media providers teaming up with internet service providers such as is seen in the US.

MediaWorks explains: “The fact Chorus, provider of most broadband internet infrastructure, does not offer retail ISP service and has no deals with content providers gives a layer of security to Kiwi Internet users. Until recently there haven’t been close links between big ISPs and big media or content companies.”
With a division between those that create online content and those who supply the internet services that allow us to access them, there is an unwritten consumer guideline evening the online playing field.

With content providers like Netflix protesting the repeal, it is unlikely NZ consumers will pay the price for the changes. So, until such a time when our media outlets also provide the internet we use, it is unlikely we will see such a radical change in the way we access content.

Perhaps, however, in decades to come, we will as a society have to learn to pay certain premiums to have varying levels of web access if our ISP’s feel emboldened to follow suit.

Until then, happy surfing.

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