Net Neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat all internet data equally. Customers shouldn’t be required to pay more for access to some websites than other, and ISPs shouldn’t be able to block you from visiting sites run by a competitor.

Generally speaking, the thinking is that it would have been difficult for Facebook, Google, or Netflix to have become what they are today if ISPs could have just blocked access or charged additional fees. And now it’d be tough for new competitors to get started if Google, Facebook, or Netflix work out deals with ISPs so that their services run faster than their competitors.

While the US government is backing away from net neutrality rules proposed during the Obama administration, thousands of websites and other organizations are participating in a net neutrality “day of action” today to raise awareness and urge action.

And then there’s Virgin Media.

This week the UK wireless carrier announced that its 4G mobile customers can now use Twitter as much as they want without that usage counting against their data cap.

Twitter is just the latest service Virgin customers can access without using up their mobile data: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp usage were covered in an earlier update.

Virgin Media’s not alone in doing this sort of thing. In the United States, T-Mobile’s BingeOn and Free Music Streaming features let customers stream media from select internet music and video services without that data counting against their monthly data caps.

All of these perks sound pretty good for users: pay for 5GB of data and you can stream all the media you want, or spend as much time on social media or messaging services as you want without worrying that you’ll run out of data.

But the point is that there’s nothing stopping Virgin or T-Mobile from deciding that the only services you can access are the ones that pay for access… which could make it tough for startups hoping to be the next WhatsApp or YouTube if they can’t afford to pay those fees.

Happy Net Neutrality Day of Action, I guess…

via EFF, The Verge, and Engadget


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6 replies on “As internet organizations fight for net neutrality, Virgin Media lets you check Twitter without hitting your data cap #ohwell”

  1. EE have also started zero rating data from apple music. People downloading from Google music or wherever have their data limited because they don’t pay the ISP tax, whilst someone downloading from apple isn’t limited because of the apple bribe.

    EE have been advertising constantly for apple for years now, as well as desperately trying to force apple music onto us – seems sad that even that isn’t enough, now apple and ee collaborate to violate net neutrality.

    I think it’s worth noting that whilst we often talk about sites being blocked, ISPs won’t take an obviously bad route – they’ll spin it as a positive (EE using deceptive language like saying – it’s “on us” – no, if the cost is really footed by EE and not an apple bribe, that’s money that comes from paying customers!) – just look at the amount of desperate ee/apple advertising on this, far from hiding this, they’re the ones going on about it.

    But fast forward a few years – data from various major companies that pay the tax is unlimited, whilst anything else is limited, and those data limits will no longer need to increase, staying the same even if prices go up (“but you now get all these services unlimited!”)

    What’s particularly dumb is how networks did away with unlimited services because people were downloading too much, especially streaming. Now it’s ok to stream, as long as it’s apple?

  2. Net neutrality is a corporate welfare handout to Zuckerberg/Bezos/Netflix. How is greasing their already-slick palms supposed to help some putative “upstart competitor?”

    1. Say your ISP decides that too much traffic is video. The company decides to block videos from any site that doesn’t pay a per stream fee. Google and Facebook will grumble, but they can probably afford to pay it. Netflix and Amazon and Hulu might decide to pass the costs on to customers, but they’ll probably be alright. That scrappy startup with four employees, a handful of servers, and the dream of becoming a streaming home for indie films? They might not be able to afford to pay up and thus their hopes of becoming the next YouTube or Netflix are dashed.

      How is preserving something that was always part of the internet a handout? The problem is it started as an unwritten rule… And now that we’re starting to see examples of companies no longer agreeing to the idea, advocates want it written and enforced… While some have decided that it’s okay to treat some ones and zeros flying through the internet differently than others.

      1. “The company decides to block videos from any site that doesn’t pay a per stream fee. ”

        That’s not the issue with net neutrality. The concept is that the ISP only charges the customer, and functions as an intermediary with no interest in the data travelling along its infrastructure – i.e. it is ‘neutral’ as to data or volume of data.

        So google, with its massively entrenched advantages, and its massive consumption of data via its services, or netflix, are only ‘endpoints’ in this concept that the consumer ‘accesses’ and the data travelling on the infrastructure is not relevant.

        In this model is that the infrastructure providers – the ISPs – become exclusively responsible for the cost and support of infrastructure. They are also not allowed to balance their networks to accommodate high bandwidth usage from some sites – such as netflix – because the law explicitly disallows them from doing so.

        The issue that develops is there is no incentive to improve the network from the ISP side. The ISP’s opinion is simply that if there isn’t enough bandwidth then tough – unless they are competing with other ISPs and there is a business case. The end-run would be to have government mandates and regulation – nanny-state – get involved instead of allowing the market to create efficient dynamics and low costs models.

        The flip side is to allow the ISP the charge both sides of the connection – the consumer of netflix as well as netflix – the customer for the connection and the provider of data for carrying its data. In this model the ISP is incentivized to invest into the infrastructure to improve it since the more data it can carry the more money it can make. For those using the lines, it improves the experience for the customer, and large consumers of data such as Amazon are incentivized to create more efficient data usage models. In this model the free market encourages innovation, investment, and efficiency improvements with lower costs to customers.

        The current model does indeed subsidize the business models of the Googles of the world. Just like the people who never buy ketchup or napkins because they get them at McDonald’s. One ketchup packet, 2, maybe 3, are part of the price, but that fistful the guy in front of you named G is taking is not.

  3. People need to stay vigilant on this matter regardless of ‘good intentions’ from the large corporations.

    They always start as little mistakes, then turn into little annoyances, then big annoyances, and finally onto monopolies. Just like the deliberate lack of competition for internet providers in the States.

    Always best to prevent it happening than trying to fix a broken system.

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