The major threat to the open Internet however, comes from governments.
In a previous article in this series on net neutrality, I argued that regulations to ensure an open Internet were not necessary in urban areas.  There, strong and even-handed competition will expose attempts by retail service providers (RSPs) to game the Internet to their exclusive advantage.

Not so in rural areas where the market has failed to secure pricing or service-level benefits for consumers.

Targeted regulations would ensure equitable access to services that urban people take for granted.  Take video for example.  Low speeds and miserly data caps means that video services are not financially sustainable for many rural people.  Yes TV On-Demand services can be accessed, but with RBI casual data overage rates of $30/GB, they are not affordable for use on a daily basis.  That this overage rate is 20 times the wholesale rate and 30 times the rate of Vodafone’s urban broadband plans, is one indicator that competition in the rural sector has failed.

net-neutrality3When we consider open Internet and net neutrality principles, the principle must not be restricted to urban-only networks.

The major threat to the open Internet however, comes from governments.

For example, the UK government has implemented filters to prevent access to on-line porn, racialist and hate sites.

Easily bypassed, those filters may stop inadvertent or innocent accesses, but are simply not working to stop hard core purveyors.  If that was the only issue, then you might say that no harm has been done.  But harm has been done by an ineffective law.  Internet users are facing real costs to implement the filters and worse still, all users are being denied access to legitimate sites such as sex education and rape support sites.

As one person has said, “…web filters do not hinder evildoers in pursuing their malpractice, so are a nuisance rather than practical.”

If they are but a nuisance, then they need not be imposed.  Because their imposition serves more to protect the criminal abusers.

If filters were not available, then governments may feel compelled to find the web servers hosting that illegal content, take them down, and catch the criminals. That outcome seems more important than bringing Kim Dotcom to account for his wrongdoing.

But to me, the issue is less about nuisance, and more about the power that filtering tools give a government.

Tech Liberty’s co-founder Thomas Beagle expressed concerned about ‘mission creep’. “Once the technology is in place, future governments could use it for broader censorship, or for political ends.” he said.

Last week, a furore arose in Turkey when the government introduced legislation to block access to sites deemed to be “…in violation of privacy.” By requiring RSPs to retain data on people’s on-line activities and to make that information available on demand, they are sacrificing peoples’ privacy in the name of privacy protection.

If you believe that such measures are not going to happen in New Zealand, then think again – they already are.

In 2010, our government introduced a web filtering service for use by RSPs that blocked access to ‘illegal child exploitation websites’.  The emotive power of this subject means of course, that no-one can deny the legitimacy of such filters.

Then last month, Labour’s revenue spokesperson David Clark suggested that the government should “…always have the ability to ban websites.”  The issue was about providing a lever to collect corporate taxes.

The suggestion is dangerous and must be resisted with laws that enforce net neutrality principles on the government.