Net Neutrality and why the internet needs to be treated like a public service

Currently the internet is (for the most part) open and neutral. Data in most countries gets treated equally, and ISP's (internet service providers) don't slow down or block certain websites just because they don't pay extra.

Many ISP's would like to change this. But many people believe this would be to the detriment of what makes the internet so wonderful and useful.

Imagine signing up for the "internet" at your home, and then being asked if you'd also like Facebook and Youtube with your package.

Imagine you had a great idea for a new online company that provided awesome video content to people, but the ISP most people used in your target market provided their own movie service which didn't get counted towards people's download limits, essentially crushing any potential competitors. (No need to imagine this actually, it's already happening in Australia.)

Imagine you had a great idea for a new social network, but Facebook had done a deal with the internet providers that their service be delivered faster and unmetered in exchange for LOTS of money, and they threatened to pull the money from the carriers if your social network received the same speeds.

Imaging if the freeway that was built through your city with tax payers' dollars all of a sudden gets shut down to normal people and only the wealthy are allowed to use it, while everyone else has to take the side streets.

This is similar to what is threatening to happen to our internet. Yes, it is US taxpayers that are responsible for funding the invention of the internet, and here in Australia taxpayers contributed to the development of Wi-Fi (if you believe CSIRO), much of Telstra's (nee Telecom) copper wiring we still use, the NBN (well, the bit of it that exists so far), and countless dollars spent on public education to teach people how to use these technologies.

After spending more than a decade paying (using public funds) to get (almost) everyone online and dependant on the net, the government here in Australia (and elsewhere) needs to realise that the internet is no longer a luxury good like home delivery pizza, but has become a tool essential to getting by and getting a job ("sorry I don't do email" will not look good on your resume). It needs to be treated like any other public service; water, electricity, roads etc.

There are currently no net neutrality laws in Australia, but that needs to change. Here's a quote from the SMH:

You might argue the ACCC would regulate anti-competitive behaviour, but keep in mind this is the same regulator that seems genuinely surprised when the price of petrol goes up before a long weekend.

The fact that net neutrality exists in the US, and the minimal amount of red tape required to set up an internet based venture, is partly why the USA is by far the world leader in innovative online ventures.

If Australia also wants to foster job creation in this growing sector (mining booms don't last forever), it needs to do more to create an environment where people can bring new ideas to market in a competitive way, not a platform where the big players can block anyone who threatens them, effectively creating monopolies.