Technology in Focus | Academia supports upgrading regulations for net neutrality
At least two academics are of the view that an upgrade in local regulations is now needed to ensure that there is effective net neutrality in Jamaica. But they argue that there is no necessity at this time for new legislation.
Rather than legislation, they are advocating for stronger regulatory oversight and the adoption of additional rules governing Internet service providers (ISPs), in order to protect local consumers against the possibility of the unfair manipulation of internet traffic.
Professor Hopeton Dunn, director, Mona ICT Policy Centre, CARIMAC, at the University of the West Indies, says that net neutrality is the basic principle which prohibits internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications or websites on the basis of extra payment, or preference.
“The principle states that carriers and ISPs should treat all data on their networks the same, and not discriminate by user, app or content,” he explained.
In further simplifying the definition of net neutrality, he said: “Assuming equivalency of computer capacity and service specifications, downloading of a Nigerian Nollywood film or the feed from a Jamaican athletics meet should not be slowed in comparison with similar content from the American content providers Netflix or Hulu, for example. There should be equity and no two-speed, two-track system, or the throttling of Internet download speed for pay or preference.”
Responding to questions as to whether there is need for legislation to ensure net neutrality, Dunn said, “Alterations to Jamaican laws will not necessarily redress aspects of a problem originating in another jurisdiction. However, to the extent that there is need to regulate the actions of local ISPs to prevent discrimination, then additional ISP rules should be adopted by regulators to protect consumers,” Dunn added.
He referred to the debate now swirling in the United States, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under Then President Barack Obama’s administration, established net-neutrality rules in 2015. However, after President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, a Republican-led FCC voted to scrap the regulations.
Since the repeal of the net-neutrality rules in the US, many major ISPs have embarked on a process of content speed variations and throttling, as it suits their business objectives.
He further explained that the approach to net neutrality adopted by the state of California, in defiance of the current FCC, is widely viewed as exemplary and could be examined to determine the merits of its provisions for our own jurisdiction.
Henry Osborne, lecturer in the Computer and Information Science Department at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), in agreeing with Dunn said: “What we need is an entity which ensures that providers are giving us value for the dollar, because we do not have a lot of options.”
When pressed about the role that the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) was playing to protect consumers from exploitation, in the absence of net- neutrality legislation, Osborne pointed out that the OUR had its own challenges.
“[The] OUR has a battle because there is not a lot of competition in the market. However, the ISPs have a bit more bargaining powers; therefore, they can always say, ‘We are not making enough money to upgrade our infrastructure; and, we are giving you the best we can at the moment.’ And, there is nothing that can be done about that,” he said.
Nicholas Lawrence, senior software engineer at Management Control Systems (MC Systems) argued that the market will provide adequate adjustment in a competitive environment; and that there is no need for legislation currently.
“If there is sufficient transparency on the Internet traffic management (ITM) policies of ISPs, consumer choice will control the ISPs’ conduct. However, as a requirement, the market must be competitive enough to reduce the ISPs’ financial incentive to implement ITM policies that go against net neutrality. On the other hand, net-neutrality legislation will definitely be required in a scenario where there is a monopoly or low competition.”
At the same time, Osborne pointed out that one of the positives of net neutrality is that it provides an environment for innovation.
“The ‘pros’ include that it will help in advancements as it relates to businesses, because it is a level playing field; and, a start-up has the same opportunity as an established company, in terms of Internet technology,” he explained.
While the Jamaican Government has signaled its full support for the principles of net neutrality, it has not indicated that it will enforce it through legislation.