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DEBATE: Is relaxing net neutrality rules good news for internet consumers?

Is the decision to relax net neutrality rules in the US good news for internet consumers?

Sam Dumitriu, head of projects at the Adam Smith Institute, says YES.

Fears that internet service providers (ISPs) will throttle rivals or block opposing viewpoints are overblown.

The Federal Trade Commission will hold ISPs to account for their promises, and antitrust law already bans attempts to unfairly disadvantage rivals. Doomsday scenarios rely on ISPs having unlimited monopoly power, but they increasingly face competition from mobile internet. With 5G, this will only get more intense.

Independent estimates found that net neutrality rules caused broadband investment to fall by 5.6 per cent, despite demand for bandwidth growing rapidly. Advertisers pay more to advertise in popular newspapers, and similarly, firms like Netflix and Google will pay more to ISPs with more subscribers. ISPs gain an incentive to cut prices and gain new users by rolling out broadband to more people. That’s a lifeline for rural communities, many of whom sadly rely on dial-up.

Fast lanes could even speed up deployment of telemedicine and multiplayer VR gaming, which rely on consistent fast connections. We should do the same in the UK.

Read more: The US has repealed net neutrality: How tech companies reacted

Simon McCalla, chief technology officer of Nominet, says NO.

One of the great public benefits of the internet is its power as an equaliser across all strata of society, so anything that limits or restricts this is potentially damaging – not just to society, but to businesses as well.

Some of the greatest innovations in education, media and entertainment have relied on open internet access for their rapid growth; consider the new platforms that make use of significant bandwidth, such as streaming services, eLearning platforms, social media and beyond. As such, the decision to relax net neutrality rules in the US sets a potentially dangerous precedent for the emergence of a two-tier internet.

While the argument for relaxing the rules is about covering the costs and driving innovation around new internet services, the risk is you’d end up with one internet for those with money, and a stripped-down version for those without, locking out certain websites and services as the whim of ISPs.

This is the crucial concern.

Read more: Defence chief: Russia could cut the UK off from the internet

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