Net Neutrality In Demand As Filtering Future Goes Out Of Question
Who holds the ultimate responsibility in controlling what people can access in the online world? This is one of the hottest topics in internet ethics at present. The debate seems set to continue as governmental bodies begin to make demands of internet service providers in an attempt to filter online content. Regulation becomes ever more difficult as access to the internet through pay as you go mobile broadband dongles, wired connections, smartphones or any number of access points proliferates.
Blackberry has recently been censured for failing to apply adequate filters to smartphones, with the concern being that children may have access to adult or illegal content through their handset. The company was called to an emergency meeting with OfCom, the communications regulator in the UK, at the end of December 2011.
In 2009 all UK mobile providers agreed a range of measures that would prevent under 18s surfing potentially dangerous sites. However, many have since claimed they cannot put these filters in place on Research in Motion’s Blackberry. In fact only T-Mobile has managed to do so at the time of writing. This agreement should, in theory, have applied equally to pay as you go mobile broadband dongle, or smartphone access.
The recent revelations have raised the question of net neutrality once more. This is essentially the idea that ISPs should not provide any restrictions as to what users may access online, even were the material concerned to be in contradiction with the ISP’s own business ethos or interests. In its most extreme form, net neutrality would result in the absence of restrictions of any form. Those in favour of neutrality have suggested that ISPs are trying to create a multi-tiered system through which they can tightly regulate internet access, a model which has been sought by some in the music industry to prevent file-sharing.
This is countered by groups supporting the introduction of filters, claiming it would not lead to any such control or degradation of performance.
In late 2011, the Federal Communications Commission in America announced a set of draft regulations for the management of networks. These clearly indicated that ISPs should not be allowed to block applications or services even if they are in direct competition with the ISP’s own business model.
American ISPs must disclose how they manage their networks and the conditions they impose in providing access thereto. ISPs will not be allowed to unreasonably discriminate against specific data sources.
In addition, The Netherlands has within the last 12 months committed to a path which will see the inclusion of net neutrality in the law, joining Chile as the second country in the world to adopt such measures.
In the UK, Ofcom has said that it wants speed and traffic filtering guarantees. In a statement issued at the end of November 2011, the regulator called for ISPs to provide greater transparency in traffic management, noting that even those that had agreed to guidelines were not providing sufficiently detailed information. It asked that providers show what, where and how blocking or filtering was taking place.
Ofcom argued that an open Internet was needed but agreed that, on occasion, it may be necessary to manage traffic under heavy loads. Ofcom also warned that it would consider active regulation if the information was not forthcoming. Unlike the US, the UK has thus far relied upon goodwill.
As if in support of Ofcom’s position it was revealed in early December 2011 that BT, at peak times, constrains its web service. Emerging congestion issues are thus resulting in lower connection speeds for many users at certain points in the day.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament is reviewing a number of proposals designed to ensure that users are protected from overly aggressive network management and metering techniques. The EP also emphasises that this should be the case for both the source and the recipient of the data.
At the same time The European Court of Justice prohibited governments from imposing a wholesale filtering system on ISPs. This was designed to catch copyright infringement associated with peer-to-peer file sharing. The ECJ claimed that the proposed move by publishers and the music industry violated the rights of individuals.
With ISPs, national and supranational bodies all involved in the debate over net neutrality and what constitutes lawful and unlawful internet usage, it is unlikely that we will see a clear outcome any time soon.
About the Author:
The above article is composed and edited by Rosette Summer. She is associated with many technology and designing communities including Broadband Expert as their freelance writer and adviser. In her free time she writes articles related to technology, mobile applications, etc.
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