Design for Digital Media Environments – Net Neutrality

Throughout the lectures in this unit, we have learned how common and important Net Neutrality is not only to us and our course, but also to the digital media environment we live in. Net Neutrality is a system which is used in network design by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This system was set up with the aim of giving equal priority to all forms of data accessed by web browser users. The original term of Net Neutrality (also known as “Network Neutrality”) was created in 2003 by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University.

Net Neutrality ensures that all online applications, websites and services that users visit take an equal amount of time to access and load. This is how this system prioritises information on the internet so that the public can experience browsing it in a consistent and fast way, without any lagging, freezing or irregular browsing speed. Net Neutrality affects not only all forms of online content but also the ISPs that provide the services for net users.

Because of Net Neutrality, ISPs (e.g. BT and Virgin Media) currently have no right to forbid users from accessing any particular online content. While ISPs can monitor what users access, they cannot limit or restrict this access to online content without facing legal issues. If Net Neutrality wasn’t established, ISPs would have full control of what users can see and access on the internet; they would also have the ability to block any websites of their choice. Buffering and loading speeds on websites from competing ISPs could also be slowed down on purpose so that users are forced to go onto websites from other service providers.

Net Neutrality also legally states that all ISPs should spend an equal amount of money to manage and provide internet services for their users. However, a recent scandal in the media occurred when Comcast (the world’s largest mass-media, broadcasting and cable company) carried out a paid deal with Netflix, in order to give Comcast users quicker and better access to Netflix’s services.

Netflix reached a deal with Comcast to pay a fee which would allow its Comcast’s customers quicker and more efficient access to Netflix. This gave Comcast users faster network and downloading speeds for the streaming media that Netflix offered. The reaction to this unfair prioritising of Comcast users (compared to everyone else), was of public outrage. This breach of Net Neutrality caused protestors and companies (e.g. Google) to take action and campaign for free, open internet services for all of its users.

Since then, Net Neutrality has been a major point of discussion from organisations such as the US Telecommunications Industry Association and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In February 2015, a list of new rules has been established, affecting Broadband providers and ISPs.

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