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WHY THE GYMNASTICS BETWEEN ZERO RATEING AND NET NEUTRALITY?

WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all online content, sites, and platforms equally. For example, they should not intentionally block or slow certain web sites or services.

Net neutrality allows freedom of expression and equal opportunities by giving people the opportunity to seek, to receive, to exchange information and to interact as equals. For that neutrality to be real, it is necessary that the Internet remain an open platform where ISPs treat content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. It is important for net neutrality that everyone can innovate without obtaining permission to do so.

A definition of network neutrality stipulates that it provides for all applications and all services be treated equally and without discrimination, especially in the more populated regions of the world, which will connect the next three billion Internet users.

The issue of specialized services

The European Union calls for an “open” Internet, and its draft regulation provides that specialty services, such as the establishment of different levels of priority given by their clients, be offered to end users, as well as companies willing to pay more to receive a priority service.

However, this project allows that services related to priority levels may not be available if the daily limit bandwidth or Internet surfing speed has been reached.

Specific cases will be given priority in traffic online: preventing terrorist attacks, sensitive data relating to health, remote surgery or driverless cars.

Some suggestions were to assess various data and information on the practices and effects of networking and existing policies on net neutrality; to work on the basic principles - namely, the significant transparency of data management practices by suppliers, no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination traffic information; to further examine upstream impacts of new aspects such as zero rated or specialized services on the economy, user experience, and human rights.

Net neutrality is the principle that all online traffic should be treated equally. Would we have this neutrality in zero rating, with some free Internet access services, especially from certain mobile operators?

ZERO RATING

Zero rating is a business practice of some ISPs, particularly some mobile operators, which means not measuring the amount of data of certain applications or services in the calculation of the use of their customers. In other words, these websites or services are provided free to clients. The European Parliament intends to allow national regulators, who will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the draft regulation, to decide whether zero rating can be applied in their country or not.

However "Internet.org" develops another option:

"Internet.org" was launched on August 20, 2013 by the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. In a ten-page press release, he explained how this project addresses a major challenge for humanity by stating in particular that "Connectivity is a human right."

Zero rating by ISPs provides customers a clear set services or applications for free, without a data plan or without considering some services or applications in the calculation of the data used.

This practice is discriminatory, and that is why it has been banned or restricted in some countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile. This practice is currently the basis of the Internet.org model. Facebook has established partnerships with ISPs around the world to offer free access to certain Internet applications to users.

These agreements and partnerships undermine freedom of expression and equal opportunities, giving ISPs the power to favor certain Internet services compared others, to hinder the free flow of information, and to restrict the rights of people when dealing with networks.

It should be stressed that the position of "Internet.org" also raises the following concerns:

• Internet.org sells the idea that their zero rated Internet account offers full Internet access, when in reality, users receive only very limited Internet access.

• Internet.org presents additional risks for freedom of expression. The ability to censor Internet gateways is well established. Some governments require ISPs to block access to certain sites  or services. Zero rating seems to open Facebook to allowing governments to put pressure on it to block some content or similarly, when users need to connect to access a site, to block access to certain users. In countries which practice this kind of restrictions, Facebook would play the role of arbiter in decisions about surveillance and censorship against politically active users.

  • Our concern is also about the consequences Internet.org may cause to the protection of privacy. Facebook's policy in this respect does not give sufficient protection for new users of the Internet, who may not have a clear idea of ​​the use that may be given to their data, or who are not able to adequately provide their consent to certain practices. In the absence of statements affirming otherwise, we can assume Internet.org collects data on users through its applications and services. The use that Internet.org and its partners in telecommunications will make of this data is not clearly explained. It would be much easier for governments and actors to monitor users on the Internet.

• The current modalities of implementation of Internet.org threaten the safety of users. The version of May 4 prohibits the use of the protocol TLS, secure exchange of SSL or HTTPS encryption services by participants. This increases the risk to users by making them more vulnerable to malicious attacks and government surveillance.

If net neutrality is the principle that all online traffic should be treated in the same way, would we be able to maintain net neutrality if we have zero rating, where there are some free Internet access services, especially from certain mobile operators?

Panoramic presentation of Internet.org

Internet.org is a global partnership among several companies, including: Facebook, Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, and Qualcomm Opera Software. The purpose of this partnership is to promote Internet access for all, especially for victims of the digital divide in developing countries.

This strategy in parallel, allows an increase in the number of Facebook users:

-Ghana, Kenya and Zambia through the operator Airtel

-Colombia, Tanzania, Guatemala and the Democratic of Republic of Congo with Tigo

-India with Reliance Communications

-Philippines with Smart Communications

Ambition

Internet.org began a partnership with Reliance Communications, an Indian operator, on 10 February 2015. This partnership allows provision of Internet access to those who do not have the financial resources, in six Indian states.

Constraints

Connecting the world is a challenge that a company or organization cannot meet alone. Various technologies exist in the field of communication, and they are not applicable in the same way depending on the geographic location involved. 

The Internet.org project aims to develop different platforms for different population groups: in the most densely populated areas (typically areas of high urban density), a mesh network is a solution to multiply Internet access points for a large number of people gathered, at a reasonable cost; in medium population density areas, Internet access could be provided by the connected UAV, powered by solar energy. In the less densely populated areas, satellite connections may be considered, but for now they remain expensive.

To overcome these limitations, an Innovation Lab was designed under the leadership of a collaboration between Ericsson and Facebook. This laboratory, located at the headquarters of Facebook, allows developers to build applications that can work across the world, by testing under different network conditions.

Mobile Application Internet.org

This application facilitates access to the Internet by providing free basic services. These services provide information in the areas of health, employment and other local information. Some features of the application: AccuWeather, Airtel, Facebook, Google Search, Go Zambia Jobs, eZeLibrary, MaMa (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action Alliance), Messenger, Wikipedia.

The application is operational today in Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, India, the Philippines, Colombia, Tanzania and DR Congo. Since 26 March 2015, the application is used in Guatemala.

WHAT TO REMEMBER?

Net neutrality involves a debate on the treatment of preferred online content (zero rating), a practice used by some Internet companies to promote content, applications or services by not charging consumers for their use. 

The notion of network neutrality takes into consideration the extent to which Internet traffic management practices (TMP) may be admissible, without being considered as discriminatory or putting in jeopardy end-users' full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Network neutrality is grounded on openness, universal access and transparency, and stems from the end-to-end argument whereby the Internet is a general-purpose network whose intelligence resides at the edges. According to such reasoning, “certain required end-to-end functions can only be performed correctly by the end-systems themselves” and the best way to cope with failures of transmission is to “give responsibility for the integrity of communication to the end systems”.

Accordingly, end-users should not be victims of opaque TMP, but rather enjoy an open and neutral network which allows them to control the applications they use; to benefit from the maximum access to online content, application and services; and to easily circulate their innovations.

The majority of network operators frequently put in place TMP consisting of blocking, filtering and throttling specific data flows, in order to prioritise or impede access to certain applications, services or content.

The widespread adoption of such TMP leads to the conclusion that the mere self-regulation may be insufficient to maintain the open and neutral character of the Internet.

Although no evidence of market failure has been associated with non-neutral TMP, it is right and proper to query to what extent such management techniques may interfere with the end-users’ freedom of expression and communication. Indeed, non-neutral traffic management may lead to the establishment of so-called “walled gardens”, thus fostering network balkanisation and limiting end-users’ possibility to circulate innovations, as well as their fundamental right to freely impart and receive information and ideas through the Internet.

Furthermore, concerns have been growing around network operators’ utilisation of intrusive techniques, such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), in order to identify the content and applications which they intend to block and prioritise.Indeed, the exploitation of these techniques hold promise to provoke nefarious consequences on end-users’ privacy. 

Recurring issues include the fear that the zero rating could restrict competition or market access for new operators. Others argue that zero rating can generate investments in networks, as well as economic and social benefits.

With zero rating, companies providing Internet access, particularly mobile operators, may enable consumers to access certain parts of Internet content, services or applications without charging them for that specific data use.

Zero rating can be applied by not charging for data traffic arising from specific applications or by offering situations where users can access the service, even if they do not have a data plan. 

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