Internet neutrality: Let it be or let it bloom

Economy June 14, 2014 00:00

By Maas Virajoti

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Over the past decade, it is undeniable that the Internet has become an integral part of daily lives, from entertainment to communication. However, a new movement that will determine the fate of the Internet is impending.

For the past couple of months, the term “Internet neutrality” has been a hot topic in Western markets. Though the term was coined many years back, the recent uproar abroad was caused by the fact that the US Federal Communication Commission has begun to expand its territory into regulating the Internet. This is a big controversy, because it is being played in field of wired home Internet connections, the foundation of Internet usage and never subject to any sort of regulation in the US since its dawn. 
This is an important topic the world should learn more about, as it is a groundbreaking concept with the power to shape any businesses that involve usage of the Internet. If home Internet in the US were to be regulated, Thailand could very well be affected, and knowing how to deal with this concept would be an advantage for local Internet-related businesses as it could totally shift the Internet landscape here.
Let’s take a closer look on what Net neutrality actually is. 
Originally, Net neutrality was the concept that all the information that flows over the Internet should be treated equally, which means that no single piece of data would have priority over others no matter where it came from. Simply put, when consumers pay their Internet providers, they should be able to access all information and sites accordingly. Internet users should be able to access all data from sites like Facebook, YouTube, or video-streaming sites at their convenience with the speed they have paid for. Hence the net stays as a neutral place for everyone.
However, big-name Internet service providers in the US as well as the government came out with a different take on the Internet, stating that data is not meant to be equal. The ISPs are looking at new business models where popular sites can pay them fees in order for their data to reach end consumers at unrestricted speed. If these sites are not willing to pay, the data delivery speed will drop drastically.  
The most visible case involved video-streaming giant Netflix, whose data delivery to consumers was slowed down by ISPs who demanded that it pay a lump sum for better speed.
The advocates of Net neutrality claim that all data should remain neutral from all influences to keep Internet businesses competitive. Start-up Internet-related business will not have the power to fight the bigger players if they are required to pay a fee to make data go faster. In the end, advocates say, the Internet as the world knows it will become a monopoly market controlled by ISPs. To this group, the Net should stay the same without regulation or new pricing schemes.
At the same time, opponents of neutrality such as conglomerate ISPs argue that a new business model is needed to regulate the Internet, as it is now an integral part of human lives and still growing at an exponential rate. They say the Internet is finite, hence the more data consumers use, the more they should pay, to make things fair for people who consume less data.  
If laws favouring the opponents of Net neutrality become a global trend, how would it affect Thailand? It could lead to Thai ISPs pushing out new improved services and pricing standards for the benefit of consumers. Currently, as found by IPG Mediabrands’ Connection Panel survey, 74 per cent of Thai Internet users are willing to pay extra money for better quality.  
Therefore, if you were a home Internet provider, you could take the idea behind Net neutrality as well as Thai Internet users’ points of view to develop new business models. By thinking on behalf of consumers, these models could include new subscription schemes to optimise consumers’ experience and even their wallets.
For example, learn from what the mobile Internet has to offer. ISPs could offer tiered usage for all users but structure the payments in the right proportion. If consumers use lots of data, they pay a more premium amount to gain all-inclusive access at full speed to any websites, streaming services, or even popular download services. And vice versa: Those who consume less through typical Internet browsing with no need for streaming or downloads pay less.
Net neutrality will become a big issue whether the outcome is letting neutrality be or letting it bloom. If “bloom” means better quality in terms of service, Thai Internet users will be willing to go with the flow. Be part of the flow from today.
Maas Virajoti is group head for strategy and innovation, IPG Mediabrands Thailand.