Understanding Net Neutrality

GSP blog imageFrom 6 – 17 July 2015, more than 100 graduate students convened at the Palais des Nations in Geneva for the 53rd annual Graduate Study Programme. The programme, hosted by the UNOG Information Service, provides an immersive experience looking into the inner workings of the United Nations, including its various agencies, funds and programmes, across key thematic areas. Students are divided into working groups, each coordinated by a different UN Agency. This year’s participating included ITU, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNOG and WMO.

After a group discussion, the ITU Working Group chose to explore net neutrality and produced a video to raise awareness about the complexity of the debate. This article is based on the video script which was written by the students in the ITU Working Group.

Net neutrality is usually referred to as the equal treatment of data, regardless of the type of content, provider or consumer. However, in reality the issue is much more complex. Firstly, there is no universal definition of ‘net neutrality’ which means the subject is often misunderstood by the general public, and there is a lot of misinformation in mainstream media. So saying that you are in favour of, or against net neutrality is not that simple.

To begin to understand the issue, it is useful to ask yourself the following questions: does your country have Internet regulation? What are the consequences of this regulation on the telecommunications market? How does that affect you as an end user?

The debate about net neutrality is about more than just the right to access and impart information, it’s also about how telecommunication markets works. It’s about understanding the technical issues, the impact on the interests of various stakeholders and the consequences of regulation.

The capacity of telecommunication networks is limited and demand for data/bandwidth has surged in recent years, largely due to an increase in video streaming and on-demand entertainment services. Traffic management is typically employed to ensure that a basic quality of service is always available, meaning pure net neutrality is rare.

So the question is not if we should or shouldn’t allow any control of data traffic, but to establish the extent of this management and who is involved in making this decision –government, private sector and/or civil society.

For example, internet service providers (ISPs) – the companies that provide customers with access to the Internet – argue that it’s fair for them to charge content providers with a higher fee if they use more of their network. They say that this is necessary so they can keep reinvesting and improving their services. Yet content providers argue that because the Internet is an open market, their content should not be taxed and the general public’s access shouldn’t be hindered in order to favour others.

The students of the 53rd Annual Graduate Study Programme ITU Working Group are still left with some key questions: are equality of content and quality of service equally important? Will Government regulation help or hinder the growth of the Internet as we know it? Most importantly, how can we get the service we want?

Click here to watch the video written and produced by the ITU Working Group of the 53rd Annual Graduate Study Programme.

Image: Members of the ITU Working Group during the 53rd annual Graduate Study Programme.


Maria Fernanda Aguila-Marin Moreno

bioMaria Fernanda Aguila-Marin Moreno is currently studying for her Masters in International Security at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques De Paris (Sciences Po Paris), where she recently completed her Bachelors in Social Sciences.

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