Mobile Data Networks Need Net Neutrality Too

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September 10th has been dubbed “Internet Slowdown Day“—a number of web companies, including the likes of Netflix, Vimeo, WordPress, Mozilla, the EFF and Open Media, are taking part in a symbolic protest against an “Internet fast lane”, an idea tabled by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States. Though currently an issue specific to the USA, what the FCC does next has potential consequences for Internet users worldwide—consequences that can already be seen on mobile networks.

How We Got Here

This all started when a US Appeals Court invalidated the FCC’s Open Internet Order, basically a piece of legislation equating Internet Service Providers to phone companies—that is, common carriers.

Common carriage as a legal concept stipulates that goods must be transported without discrimination. So for telephone networks a call from an AT&T customer to a Verizon customer can’t be treated any differently than a call between two Verizon customers. Or two AT&T customers. You get the idea. And when it comes to the Internet, your YouTube channel where you complain about your parents not understanding you must be given the same priority as breaking news via streaming video from CNN. That’s net neutrality in a nutshell.

The FCC now has a new draft of the Open Internet Order, which compels ISPs to provide a minimum level of service, but at the same time permits them to charge companies a premium for unthrottled access to their networks. This could set the stage for a two-tiered Internet, and stifle innovation from those who can’t afford to pay up.

Further Reading (from me):

Breaking Down Verizon v. FCC
Net Neutrality Update

The Mobile Angle

A two-tiered Internet has already manifested itself in mobile networks in the USA and Canada.

In the United States, what T-Mobile is calling Music Freedom—that is, music streaming from select providers that won’t count against users’ data caps—has received a fair share of criticism for violating net neutrality. I think they deserve it. It’s great if you’re a T-Mobile subscriber who’s really into music and uses one of the supported services, but what if your streaming music service isn’t supported? Or what if you’re not a T-Mobile subscriber at all?

The one saving grace with this T-Mobile initiative is that the carrier isn’t charging the music providers anything for the free streaming to its subscribers. But it does set a troubling precedent for a future where someone is bound to be left out in the cold.

Further Reading:

T-Mobile’s ‘Music Freedom’ is a great feature — and a huge problem
T-Mobile’s Unlimited Music Streaming Is the Worst for Net Neutrality

In Canada, we’re still waiting for the CRTC to act on a complaint from forums member Ben Klass about Bell’s Mobile TV—a service which, for a flat five-dollar monthly fee, provides Bell subscribers with unlimited access to video content, but only content that’s owned by Bell. We can at least take some solace in the fact that Rogers has effectively blinked; as of August 17th its very similar Anyplace TV offering is no longer exempt from data charges.

Further Reading:

CRTC probes wireless players over mobile TV
Rogers backs off mobile app pricing during CRTC review

What You Can Do

The call to action for Internet Slowdown Day is to add your name to a letter that will be delivered to the FCC, Congress and The White House. OpenMedia.ca is also taking names, along with donations if you’re so inclined. Or you can volunteer for them like I do

And if you wanted to raise awareness amongst your Internet friends with “Loading…” gifs like the one I’ve used above, there are tools to do that too!

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