LISBON, Portugal – The United States implemented strong net neutrality rules in 2015, approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after years of advocacy. The concept of Net Neutrality, a term coined by Tim Wu, a Columbia University professor, holds that internet service providers and organizations should give all websites the same treatment, ensuring that the internet is free to access for all.
But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has recently caused an uproar and has been accused of disrupting the open internet as he plans to repeal the laws.
Some European countries, like Portugal, already know what a leeway in net neutrality restrictions means, with several internet providers splitting the net into packages. Internet providers offer customers different levels of access to the internet depending on how much they are willing to pay. Portuguese provider MEO, for instance, has been offering additional data to clients depending on what content they use after their internet data usage has been capped.
Due to a lack of #NetNeutrality, this is what internet packages in Portugal are starting to look like. This shouldn't be the case anywhere. The web should be an equal playing field. https://t.co/lvxQyzCOuG | @qz @MJ_Coren pic.twitter.com/9FrtFDpS01
— The Web Foundation (@webfoundation) November 17, 2017
“There is a paradox between freedom of business and protection of consumers and it is complicated to find the right balance,” Luis Vidigal, President of the Portuguese Association for the Promotion and Development of the Information Society (APDSI) told The Globe Post. “We [at APSDI] believe that net neutrality is the way, to provide universal, equal access without discrimination of classes.”
Mr. Vidigal also considers it is discriminatory for Internet Service Providers to offer young people access to Facebook, Twitter, and other services without charging for the internet traffic. “It benefits the consumer, but there are risks of dominant abuse because it can lead to monopolies in a highly competitive sector.”
The concerns surrounding a lack of net neutrality are in part due to the risk of abuse of dominance.
“Having more speed depending how much you pay is inevitable,” João Confraria, a Professor at Portugal’s Catholic University and former Board Member of ANACOM, the Portuguese Regulatory Authority for Postal Communications and Electronic Communications, told The Globe Post.
“But restricting access to some platforms, as well as incentivizing access to others, can be incompatible with net neutrality,” he added.
Mr. Confraria said regulators until now have not been very clear in terms of commercial policies that they consider compatible with net neutrality.
For U.S. Congressman Ro Khana, Portugal’s lack of net neutrality is unacceptable.
“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages. A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what’s at stake. And that’s why we have to save net neutrality,” he wrote on his Facebook page in October.
According to a Reuters report published on Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission plans to vote to overturn U.S. net neutrality regulations in December.
As Mr. Khana points out, the Portuguese picture of lack of net neutrality shows what will happen in the U.S. if the courts and Congress don’t intervene.