The net neutrality was saved

Internet - Net neutrality - what is it actually?

What is net neutrality?

In short, net neutrality means that all data on the Internet must be treated equally - regardless of the purpose, where it comes from and where it is going. This means that Internet providers are not allowed to influence the data streams in their networks, but have to forward all data as quickly as possible within the scope of their possibilities.

This principle corresponds to the actual architecture of the Internet according to the “end-to-end principle”: Power lies at the end points of the network. Intermediate nodes - network routers that forward data packets - should only bring content from A to B and not give preference to data.

If the term net neutrality is interpreted less strictly, it makes a difference between different services. In this way, certain data can be transmitted faster than others if a delay there would be particularly disturbing. However, all data within the same category must be treated in the same way.

Why are people talking about it right now?

A few days ago, Ajit Pai presented his plan to abolish the net neutrality rules that apply in the USA. Pai is the chairman of the US communications agency FCC and was installed by President Donald Trump. In 2015, under Pai's predecessor Tom Wheeler, broadband Internet was classified as “Title II, link opens in a new window” utility.

This gave the FCC the right to regulate providers more strictly and prohibit them from certain practices. This includes the option of forwarding certain data packets faster than others for a surcharge.

Under the new rules, network operators should no longer be prohibited from blocking, slowing down or preferring content or services. The so-called “zero rating” should also become possible, in which end customers are not billed for the consumption of certain data. So you can listen to the music of a certain streaming service without having to worry about your data limits.

Pai only wants to require the providers to provide transparent information about such practices. What exactly this transparency means - whether it is sufficient to point it out in the small print of the general terms and conditions - is not yet known.

What are the main arguments of the opponents of net neutrality?

The opponents want to secure the innovative power of the Internet and enable healthy competition. This is only possible for them if the state regulates as little as possible.

Above all, they fear that too much regulation will prevent network operators from investing in expanding their networks. Ajit Pai's most important argument: Since 2015, the infrastructure investments of the large network operators have fallen by 5.6 percent - that is, since the reclassification of broadband Internet as a "Title II" utility.

The network operators argue that in a healthy market, a provider can charge different prices for different products and services. This requires the freedom to be able to handle data differently in their networks.

This would create new income opportunities for the providers to drive the expansion of their networks. And due to the constantly growing amount of data on the Internet, this is urgently needed in order to be able to continue to guarantee the fast transport of important data.

In addition, the opponents of net neutrality claim that the stricter regulation of the Intret as a "Title II" pension institution has created legal uncertainty and that the new rules are formulated too unclearly. A paragraph, Link opens in a new window, which is considered to be particularly vague, will be cited.

Shortly:

Opponents of net neutrality say the internet worked well before the FCC intervened in 2015. The only consequence of the new rules was that less was invested in the expansion of networks and services. If Internet providers could ask for money in order to prioritize certain data streams, they would create new sources of income. Ultimately, the customers benefited from this, because in return the providers could lower their prices. Customers would also benefit from new business practices such as the “zero rating”.

What are the main arguments of the proponents?

The proponents want to secure the innovative power of the Internet and enable healthy competition. This can only happen for them if net neutrality is ensured through a degree of state regulation.

Above all, they fear that without net neutrality, small businesses on the Internet would be disadvantaged compared to financially strong corporations. A startup company cannot compete with an established service if it buys a fast lane on the Internet from the network operator and brings its content to the customer faster or in better quality. This would slow down innovation and cement the monopoly of some large companies.

Because providers are increasingly investing in their own services, proponents warn against the fact that network operators can give preference to their own content or exclude offers from competitors entirely from their network.

There were a few examples of this in the USA before the introduction of net neutrality: Verizon blocked the Google Wallet app on its smartphones - in favor of its own payment service. Censorship is also possible, for example if a provider completely bans critical content about him from his network.

In contrast to the opponents, the proponents of net neutrality do not believe that stronger Internet regulation will prevent providers from expanding their networks. They refer to statements made by the network operators who have promised their investors further investments, Link opens in a new window. After all, even under the applicable rules, the providers could not have complained about a lack of income.

Even if the providers would now have the opportunity to open up new business areas by selling preferential treatments, they would still have no reason to pass the proceeds on to customers by means of price reductions. In addition, there is simply a lack of competitive pressure among the providers.

Shortly:

Proponents of net neutrality fear that without regulation the network operators would have too much power and could decide at their own will which data flows through their networks quickly, slowly or not at all. In doing so, they would decide the better or worse for new ministries and ideas. That would run counter to the actual principle of the Internet, its open and decentralized architecture, which is what makes it innovative.

Alexander Sander, managing director of the non-profit organization “Digitale Gesellschaft” in Berlin, gives a detailed position on the arguments of the advocates of net neutrality in an interview in the SRF business program “Trend”.

How is the situation in Switzerland?

As far as net neutrality is concerned, the situation in Switzerland differs fundamentally from that in the USA in one point: While Swiss customers can usually choose between several Internet providers, in the USA there is often only a choice between two providers or one. According to the FCC, this applies to broadband Internet, Link opens in a new window to 87 percent of the population.

In Switzerland, net neutrality is not anchored in the law. Internet providers such as Swisscom, UPC, Sunrise or Salt have, however, expressed themselves in a voluntary code, Link opens in a new window for an open Internet. In the code they undertake not to block or hinder any services or applications. However, the "zero rating" is excluded. The providers can thus exclude certain offers such as music streaming from the data volume of their customers and give them privileges over other services.

In its message on the revision of the Telecommunications Act, Link opens in a new window (LTC), the Federal Council declares that it does not want to prescribe network neutrality by law in the future either. There are no indications in Switzerland that net neutrality is being violated, said Federal Councilor Doris Leuthard. The providers should, however, have to inform their customers if they do not treat data neutrally.

So far, Swiss policy on net neutrality has hardly been influenced by the situation abroad - neither by the USA nor by the European Union, where stricter rules apply than ours. However, developments in the USA could still have an indirect influence. Namely when large Internet services like Netflix or Google expect the same preferential treatment from Swiss providers in the future that they can buy in the USA.

What's next now?

On December 14th, the five members of the FCC will vote on the lifting of net neutrality in the USA. A 3-2 result along the party lines is expected, with Ajit Pai and the other two Republican commissioners voting for the FCC chairman's proposals.

In Switzerland, the above-mentioned revision of the Telecommunications Act will decide whether Internet providers will only have to adhere to certain rules within the framework of a voluntary code ‘. Next, in the first quarter of 2018, the National Council's Transport and Telecommunications Commission will begin deliberating on the bill.

What does «broadband» mean?

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In the USA, “broadband internet” means a data transfer rate of 25 Mbit / s. For the International Telecommunication Union ITU, "broadband" means a speed of 2 Mbit / s. In the 2 Mbit / s segment, 90 percent of Americans have a choice between three or more providers. For comparison: fiber optic internet can reach up to 1000 Mbit / s.