What had been uncertain is now law in the Netherlands as they dive head-long into the great debate known as Net Neutrality.
Yesterday, June 22nd, Dutch parliament passed a bill stopping mobile operators from billing more for voice calls made on-line. The law also prevents the companies from simply blocking the calls to skirt around the ruling. There’s still a crucial step of passing the senate, but at this point it’s just a formality and we can expect this to be law.
In this instance we’re looking at fair access to using the network for voice calls, but net neutrality means many things and is a huge issue across the globe in any developed country with paid network access.
Ideally a packet of data should cost the same no matter what’s inside that packet, but ISPs claim that not all traffic is equal. In fact ISPs believe that packets used to deliver game data, file-sharing, or adult content, should be deemed ‘unwanted’ and either delivered with less priority or charged at a higher rate. ISPs even go to the effort of claiming that by censoring these particular packets they are capable of delivering a better internet experience for the majority of their users.
Customers challenge that ISPs are trying to skirt around upgrades and improving the connectivity by simply censoring certain traffic. This means that with a few tweaks they can avoid huge upgrade costs and instead just pocket the profits.
Not buying it?
Well lets take a look at a much more competitive medium?
If you take the cost of physical disk storage..
Make some leaps between storing data and transmission..
You can draw some very pretty images..
Visualizing the gap between competition and tech.
In this case the artist to the right would like you to see the following:
If ISPs were competitive we’d be paying $45/month for 985Mbs!
.. if only it were a legal argument!
In this case the issue is mobile internet users making calls but we know what a slippery slope these decisions can be.
Indeed in the mobile industry alone there is already rumours of backlash in the form of increased subscription rates. Vodafone was quoted as saying that the bill, if passed, would “lead to a large increase in prices for mobile internet for a large group of consumers” as Vodafone would no longer be allowed to single out heavy users for higher charges.
Users on the other hand are outraged that providers won’t upgrade to solve the bandwidth needs because it cuts into profit, and instead just increase prices to discourage extra use. Customers also demand to know how the companies are learning the contents of the data and trying to charge more based on type of data. This has been compared to a postal worker that looks inside your letter mail, and charges you more to deliver a cheque vs. a bill. To some it is entirely unthinkable and the outrage is far flung across the web.
In the end, if the Dutch leadership have the sense to make bills very selectively, they may solve some of the crucial problems we’re facing with ISPs. I personally have some doubt that they can take two steps forward without any steps back and will be impressed if someone can finally pave a clear path forward on such a contentious issue.