Net Neutrality is one of the key issues for the future development of the internet and remains a primary focus for both activists and legislators the world over, as individuals and corporations duke it out to settle who finally holds the controls over how we access information online, and how the internet of the future might be structured.
In this column, Chris Godber explores the way this is playing out, and the unexpected way that Bots are now dictating some of our dialogue online.
What is the debate over Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the concept that all traffic on the internet must be treated the same i.e ISP’s and Governments must not show bias or preferential treatment to any group, individual or organisation in how they treat their data’s distribution on the internet, so that providers may not slow down, charge or charge money for specific websites or content. Essentially it makes the internet an equal playing field for all regardless of background or status, and has been a guiding principle coined by professor Tim Wu in 2003 , as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier.
Where Net Neutrality is now in the US
President Obama and Trump have taken very different approaches to this issue during their time in office, in a nutshell Obama was pro net-neutrality whilst The Trump administration wants to roll back the pro-net-neutrality rules that were voted for under President Obama.
President Trump appointed a net-neutrality opponent, Ajit Pai, as FCC chairman in January, and he began the process of dismantling the current rules in May and invited the public to submit comments over the summer.
Telecoms companies say they need to be able to decide what traffic to prioritise in order to provide the best service to consumers. However pro Net Neutrality activists and experts fear that once the rules are reversed, internet service providers (ISPs) will start to block or restrict some data while those willing to pay will be given “fast lanes”. Creating an unequal playing field for users on the internet.
In the age of ‘Post-Truth’ Bots are Skewing Polls…
According to this recent BBC article Net neutrality debate ‘controlled by bots
More than 80% of the comments submitted to a US regulator on the future of net neutrality came from bots, according to researchers.
Further the BBC article reports
Data analytics company Gravwell said only 17.4% of the comments were unique.
Most of the 22 million comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission over the summer had been against net neutrality, it suggested.
One expert said the findings posed a risk to future polls. The analytics team behind the latest bot research said most comments had been submitted in bulk, with many coming in batches with obviously incorrect information. It said this indicated they had not been submitted by individual members of the public…
We live in strange times where information is still free to access but the net has become, even more so than it was in the past a world of smoke and mirrors, where one can never be too careful, and one can never be sure of what is real, and what is false.
This relates I believe to what is known as ‘post-truth’ politics, in the sense that the internet is being used more and more by both the left and the right as a propaganda tool, and more worryingly still a tool for cyber warfare and espionage, but I digress.
Net Neutrality is now a burning issue in the US as the FCC (Federal Communications Commission ) gears up to vote on a bill by Trump appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai which proposes ripping up the classical principles of net neutrality in the US when it goes to commission vote on Dec 14th.
One thing is for sure, wherever it is the politicians or the activists and consumers who steer the direction of this debate one way or the other, the implications for the internet could well be far reaching and long lasting, including *potential throttling of load times for certain sites, priority loading for those who can pay (making the internet a less equal marketplace if you will) and potentially higher costs for consumers to get full service from their ISP.
Now is probably the time to choose a side.