With people across the world discussing Net Neutrality in America and it’s possible ramifications worldwide, it’s vital to know where you stand in this heated debate. It varies heavily from country to country, with most of the ‘free-world’ in massive support of keeping the current rules, and not allowing ISPs to censor the internet. But where does the UK stand among all of this? We have a long standing, supporting relationship with America, but will we be subject to the same arbitrary, politically motivated censorship on the only platform of free speech available to everyone as a Human Right? The answer is more complex than you might think.
The right to fair internet access has been long standing in the UK and the UN, with many non-binding resolutions which countries are bound to follow. Schools need internet access as a right, as do prisons. And under UN legislation, though this access may be limited by the individual organization, there cannot be an censoring of the internet that comes into the facility. Put simply, though a school may block access to certain sites, the ISP cannot block access to those sites before they reach the facility. Schools might have a block on Facebook or Twitter, but the ISP cannot block those sites from reaching the school. This is a massive plus for the UK, because, as part of the EU, we are bound to follow their rules. This gets complicated however, as Brexit may still be happening, and we will have to create a new set of rules, or follow theirs anyway.
There’s a huge advantage the UK has over other countries in this matter, which not many are talking about; we are a small country. In the US, being so large, there are many places which only have access to one service provider, such as Comcast. For the residents of these places, they simply have no choice who they purchase their internet from, and they have to stick to their rigid rules or have no internet altogether. We don’t have this problem in the UK, and it breeds healthy competition within ISPs. Most places across the UK have access to at least 2 or 3 service providers, and if they don’t like their current one, they can simply change to a competitor. BT internet is available almost anywhere in the UK, as are TalkTalk, Sky, and even the Post Office. Virgin is only available in most places, as they use mostly fibre optic cabling, but anywhere that can get Virgin can use another ISP. This level of competition is great for the consumer and the businesses, as they each have their own market share. If one of the big names in internet began denying access to certain sites, then people would simply move to a less known, but less censored ISP.
The best way of explaining this is through a hypothetical scenario. Say the UK followed Americas lead and net neutrality was repealed. Now, Sky as an ISP may start denying access to BBC news and Virgin News, or even online streaming services like Netflix, which directly impact another side of their business. Would you, as a consumer, stand for this? Or would you change your service provider to a competitor who lets you use the full internet for the same price? It’s a simple answer, and hard to imagine anyone staying with the censored news.
Alot of countries around the world do not have the option of switching ISP, but here in the UK we have a wealth of potential start-ups ready to take the place of any fallen giant.
The UK laws on net neutrality are still not set in stone, but nowhere in any documentation does it say the ISPs have to censor their internet if the laws change, just that they can if they want. Personally, I would pay more to have full internet access, because personal freedoms are something nobody should take for granted.