For those of you that have not come across the notion of net neutrality, it is the idea that any provider or service has equal access to internet-connected consumers; essentially there is no bias on which websites you can visit. It also prevents ‘fast lanes’ or forced slowdowns for smaller, disadvantaged players and prevents ISPs from granting faster delivery to companies that can pay for the privilege.
Tomorrow, on 12th July, major tech companies in the US are getting together for a day of action in support of net neutrality, following the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle net neutrality laws which Obama implemented in 2015.
So what are the potential implications and why should you care?
It is worth highlighting that the UK is not immediately at risk of restricting internet access; last summer the EU introduced a new law to protect open internet access from unfair restrictions. However, many businesses opted to leave the EU as they believe EU bureaucracy restricts their operations and therefore it is fair to say that post Brexit, there are no guarantees that this law will remain indefinitely.
But do people really understand the impact that such a move would have? It would appear not. A recent Collider poll reveals that nearly half of all internet users who responded said they would rather pay less for restricted internet access if they had a choice.
On face value, this cheaper tariff might seem ideal for those of us who are just about managing. However, if people could only access websites which were
decided by their ISPs, the ramifications would be far reaching and could signal the end of the internet as we know it.
How concerning would it be if individuals took everything they were purposely fed online by multi billion-pound corporations with political agendas at face value? The web is full of less than truthful sites, but without the experience of identifying and understanding the bias on these, how would the next generation critically view what they read online?
Likewise, websites could pay ISPs to be part of their lowest (or even free) internet package. If a gas and electricity provider was guaranteed to be the only provider viewed online by 10 million+ UK residents, how much would that be worth to them and how much more difficult would it be for you to find the best deal in your area?
Our recent analysis suggests that internet users prefer to access organic listings; that is websites with the best user experience and most relevance, rather than click on paid search ads. In fact, only one in 20 click on Google ads, with the rest (95%) preferring to scroll down to the natural listings below.
So it would appear there is much confusion amongst consumers as to the
ramifications of net neutrality. Whilst many would opt to pay less for restricted internet access, the reality is that the majority prefer a level playing field, where online visibility is dictated by website quality and relevance, not by companies with the deepest pockets.
The reality is that an internet completely without net neutrality is one that favours the largest internet companies and corporations, stifling competition and innovation, promoting biased news and misinformation and ultimately creating less clarity and choice for consumers - who have no say in the matter. Is that a reality we can afford?
Adam Richards is Head of Search at Collider