Seeing America through the Middle East: What’s next for Net Neutrality?

As an American student in Egypt, at any given moment you can experience the impact of Republican values. From the social conservatism to the laissez-faire approach toward the market. For all the GOP’s critiques of the middle east, it is governed by the same guiding principles as the conservative party: traditionalism.

Historians face the pressing task of evaluating the true outcomes of various actions taken in history. They do this primarily because knowing the outcomes of various policy helps make political action significantly more effective. We continually fail to examine our current world for problems that exist in parallel. While we tend to draw lines and point out differences between ourselves and our neighbors, we are all human. Through the lens of a historian, we might take a moment to analyze some policies instilled in a relatively conservative fashion, and subsequently consider just how well it has played out.

First is a topic that should be near and dear to the hearts of everyone: net neutrality. Consider how significant the internet is in your daily lives. We rely on it for reviews of businesses, for information on historical events, for news, for recommendations and advice, even as a means of finding a job. In the event that internet service providers, ISPs, were allowed (and as they have recently become), they could completely control that stream of information. They could charge businesses more or less dependent upon shady deals.

Image result for net neutrality

Imagine Google: Big company, strong search engine. However, it currently sees competition from Bing, which has direct business ties to Microsoft and, by extension, the Windows Phone. Bing has never been my search engine of choice. However, if Google developed ties to one ISP, and Bing to another, then when you search “new phone” one would bombard you with the Google Pixel 2 and the other with the Lumia 1520. While I’d love to have either, I wouldn’t even encounter Samsung, without paying in some way to access that information. This lack of coverage would lead Samsung sales to dip in the phone market and cause a shift toward a polarized cell phone market.

Many may not see the threat of this. They might counter by arguing that if Samsung is superior, then it would still win out in the market. But, if the ability to share its superiority is limited, you’ll hear more people argue for Google’s seamless interface and Microsoft’s simplicity. Samsung would fade out. Ultimately this type of top-down market control makes competition exceptionally difficult. This potential crippling of Samsung, a company that is currently relevant, exemplifies a definitive inability for new companies with new ideas to break out onto the scene. And this limitation in the marketplace leads to a certain laziness to the companies. They can simply keep their devices different enough with modest improvements each year, and enjoy the profits. But, once more, let’s assume some genuine desire for risky competition. To see that we can turn to Egypt.

Image result for net neutrality

In Egypt, there are three major cell phone carriers: Orange, Etisilat, and Vodafone. They operate such that it is free to make calls within that network. In other words, calling a different network costs more. To combat this, two main paths have been created: apps that route messages and calls through free internet services, or apps that run requests in order to circumvent costs. The first path is exemplified by ‘free’ calling and texting services, such as Whatsapp and Viber. To manage the cost of keeping these apps free, the creators can sell ad space (which frequently destroys visual aesthetic and damages popularity), harvest user data for third-party advertising, or try to sell “premium” features or entice with trial periods. Ultimately, this would be websites needing to charge more, advertise more, or track your information more to continue being hosted through any given ISP, and continue to provide content access.

The second path is shown through the use of multichip phones or (in the case of the internet) external servers that trick phone providers, or the ISPs, into routing an individual’s request around the very barriers that were created.The individual’s use of an online tunneling service redirects the information requests around the ISPs limits, but also leaves private information less secure.

As the ISP regulations begin to be relaxed in the United States, we will see new potential loopholes and workarounds being installed in the market, but at the cost of clean content and more data tracking. 

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