No, stop that, you can’t do that. This week is all about media regulation, from the personal regulations my parents enforced by not allowing me to watch the Simpsons, any movie without their supervision (or until it was age appropriate according to ratings system); to the more broad societal regulation of media consumption. More specifically the internet, and the issue of net neutrality. What is net neutrality you ask? Well it’s the idea of having an internet free of filtering, prioritisation, censorship and favour based on the providers of the content which is being accessed; meaning all content should be treated equally, and ensures expensive infrastructure is used to maximise its capacity, guaranteeing intensive applications like Bittorrent don’t affect other user’s internet connection speed.
The problem with not having net neutrality means that all providers are not treated equally; and leads to suppliers secretly blocking or downgrading internet traffic to favour their own content or to prioritise the delivery of content for a high price. If these internet providers (optus, iinet, Dodo) partnered with major information companies such as Google or Yahoo it could effectively provide their members with free access to Google, but on the other would make competition expensive. While one could still choose between content giants it means that ‘minnow sized start-ups are unlikely to ever make similar deals, innovation is stifled, and new competitors are effectively locked out’ (Schaffarczyk 2014).
Net neutrality has gained recent traction in the media, after courts in the US voted to not go forth with the new proposed ‘Open internet rules (net neutrality)’ by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the aim of the new legislation to “prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking and discriminating in the delivery of content over the internet” (Ashurst Australia 2014). The Courts reasoning was based on the idea that:
- While fixed-line broadband providers are monopolies in many parts of the USA, customers can still choose between a number of mobile providers and switch if they feel their provider is restricting content
- The decision also centred on the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISP) has always been classified as ‘information services’ rather than ’common carriers’
While Australia has never had net neutrality, as domestic internet service providers shape and restrict current traffic, many providers allow unmetered access to certain sites which they define as ‘Freezones’, which deliver locally hosted content to their customers. My internet provider iinet’s Freezone includes access to the Freezone Radio station which consists of 180 radio stations streamed to one page, Freezone videos, ABC Iview and Itunes Australia; these sites don’t count towards download quota and are accessed with some of the highest connection speed available on my plan.
MY INTERNET USAGE INCLUDING FREEZONE
However significant shifts in consumer demands, the telecommunication industry and active monitoring of network management by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) could bring this issue to head in the near future warns Canberra honours Law student Karl Schaffarczyk. Schaffarczyk notes three crucial changes in the current media environment which could push Australia to adopting net neutrality very soon:
- Overwhelming demands on network capacity in Australia have prompted calls for an industry debate about how best to manage traffic.
- Australians download a large proportion of internet content from the US, and will experience any flow on effect from tiered internet services
- It is already happening in Australia. It is generally acknowledged that Australian network operators at times prioritise time critical data such as voice services over peer-to-peer file sharing traffic as part of their network management practices.
The ACCC also recently expressed concerns for the potential for such traffic prioritising capabilities to be used for the purpose of “discriminating against competing third part services, and will be monitoring any emerging anti-competitive network management practises” (Schaffarczyk 2014). As a result the ACCC conducted an independent review of communication regulation in Australia in 2012, called the ‘Convergence Review’, which concluded that the ACCC may not have sufficient powers to address “evolving content-specific issues, including net neutrality”, the report recommended that the “ACCC retain its telecommunications-specific powers for the present time and to review these powers once the NBN is implemented” (Ashurst Australia 2014).
“Labor believed that the arrival of the Internet required more regulation and less freedom. We say that the arrival of the Internet enables much more competition and therefore more freedom and that therefore there is a need for less regulation not more.” Minister for Communications stated in the House of Representatives
However don’t stress, Australia has several failsafe puts into place such as a solid competition across Australia (as Telstra’s ADSL network is open to competitors), a wide selection of providers to choose from including during the roll out of the NBN; and strong consumer protection laws enforced by the ACCC including the ‘diversity of voice’, ‘levelling the playing field’, ‘media convergence policy’ and the ‘parity of regulation’. One thing is for sure moving forward, that is the need to develop a new code of practise for Internet Service Providers, which addresses the following questions:
- Who is to be regulated
- The level of regulation
- The roles, functions and scope of responsibility of the ACMA and ACCC
- Addressing the level of influence and control the US has on the content Australia access, and the level of revenue gained from supplying content to Australia
What is the future for net neutrality, have any theories, comment below. For more research check out the links below.
Schaffarczyk , K 2014, Australia’s Net Neutrality Lesson for the US, The Conversation, accessed 19/09/2014, http://theconversation.com/australias-net-neutrality-lesson-for-the-us-22245
Ashurst Australia 2014, US Court finds FCC’s net neutrality rules invalid, accessed 18/09/2014, http://www.ashurst.com/doc.aspx?id_Content=10063