IDEAS Insights Net Neutrality & Development - lessons from Zambia - Page 3

The internet today is an essential part of the public infrastructure. Indeed, it is increasingly treated as a utility by consumers in the way it is used. A utility is defined as a large firm that owns and/or operates facilities used for generation, transmission or distribution of crucial services to the general public, and the internet certainly shares similar characteristics. Before the arrival of the internet, telephone networks were conceived of as a utility. Indeed, the Obama Administration supported the idea of reclassifying internet service as a public utility, in a similar fashion to our road or electric networks. Net neutrality is a principle intended to compel internet service providers to treat all data as open and fair, without any discrimination. Conventional utility providers already have to ensure the same quality services are provided regardless of their customer: customers may not receive different quality water in the same city, just because they belong to another service provider. If the internet is treated as a utility, service providers will also lose the ability to segregate network traffic by either its source or content. As the internet has also become a democratic concern around the world, its treatment is gaining increasing political salience. 2018 is already a significant year regarding internet regulation, with authorities around the world introducing new policies that have gained traction in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. While the European Union has recently launched the comprehensive GDPR data privacy regulation, there are still many legal uncertainties that are giving rise to shortcomings in the everyday use of the internet, which continue to generate controversy. This year has seen a dramatic turn in the United States to abolish net neutrality, under the direction of Ajit Pai, Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). [1] Under Pai, net neutrality was repealed, only to be rescinded again a few months later after the U.S. Senate voted to reverse the FCC’s order of reconditioning 2015’s net neutrality laws. [2] a In some developing countries, where there is an essential need for more general access to the internet, rather than to specialised services such as entertainment content, a restricted internet is becoming more common practice. Ensuring access to a sustainable internet infrastructure still remains an economic and social imperative, but the provision of a sufficient connection to the general population also continues to fall short by a wide margin in several countries. a 1