Revoking Net Neutrality, a debate that has only just begun…

The debate on the end of net neutrality rocked the United States in 2017 and may soon threaten Europe. What are the main issues underlying this revocation? An analysis of the subject and possible developments in France.

On 14 December 2017, Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the American telecommunications watchdog, stood before the commission and defended his position on the revocation of net neutrality: “It won’t end the internet as we know it. It won’t kill democracy. It won’t stifle freedom of expression online.” The FCC voted. Net neutrality is no more in the United States.

This founding principle of the internet required all Internet Service Providers (ISP) to treat online content in the same neutral and egalitarian way, regardless of its origin.

When he arrived at the White House, Donald Trump explained that he wanted to promote investment in new services requiring more bandwidth like video conferencing, telemedicine and even connected vehicles, and “restore the freedom of the internet”. He then appointed Ajit Pai (former employee of Verizon – historical ISP in the United States) as the chairman of the Commission. 

By revoking net neutrality, the FCC is allowing ISPs to change internet speed at their convenience and prioritise some content at the expense of others.

 

What are the consequences of the end of this neutrality?

It is now possible to block or slow down the flow of certain content or make others pay for access. The end of this principle governing the internet favours the emergence of a two-speed internet.

It is easy to imagine that some web pages will take longer to load, thus discouraging users from visiting them.  Opponents of the disappearance of net neutrality fear that the US government will have greater control over what is broadcast by preventingdissenting” ideas from being put forward.

 

Who really benefits from this decision?

In the United States, the major historical ISPs that have the monopoly on the market are also the creators of content. They therefore seem likely to be the first to take advantage of this major change since they will be able to promote their own content and make it more expensive to access other content.

Thanks to the income generated, ISPs will be able to invest more money in developing the network, thus significantly increasing their profits and strengthening their monopoly of the market.

However, the ISPs must be transparent on how they prioritise their content and their customers. In the event of complaints, legal action could then be taken against the ISPs.

 

What does this mean for Europe?

Sébastien Soriano, chair of the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (Arcep) in France and head of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, seeks to offer reassurance about what has happened across the pond. The American decision “will not have a direct impact on Europe” as “neutrality is a rule which is linked to territory”.

François de Rudy, president of the National Assembly has also spoken on this subject stating that he wants neutrality to become a part of our Constitution.

On the other hand, the end of neutrality in the United States will inevitably raise questions in Europe and we should expect many debates in 2018.

The stakes are high for companies with regards to this issue: could the end of net neutrality have a direct impact on notions of data security? How can we address these fundamental issues? This is all linked to the new European Regulation (GDPR) which is looming and requires companies to ask themselves the appropriate questions. The INQUEST* team is available to help you tackle these questions calmly.

 

Thibault Carré, IT Security Consultant at INQUEST

*A subsidiary of the GM Consultant group, INQUEST is a risk management consultancy and service provider working with companies: audits, consulting, training and investigations.