Net neutrality: bigger than Netflix and gifs

By Nikki Galovic

23 November 2017

3 minute read

Close up of hands on a tablet with a desktop in the background

What is net neutrality and why is everyone talking about it?

Right now the US government is debating whether or not they should continue to have net neutrality. But what is net neutrality? It’s the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all internet traffic the same and not block, slow down or otherwise discriminate against particular websites or online services. For example, an ISP could make your Netflix viewing really slow or expensive and therefore people might be more inclined to ‘commercial free-to-air and chill’ instead. This may come as a surprise as we currently think of the internet as a pretty free place for us to surf around and access whatever content we want, when we want. And our service providers don’t charge us different rates depending on the content we consume.

otter sliding on its stomach on ice

Net neutrality is about more than not being able to watch gifs like this for 4 hours straight

The fact of the matter is, net neutrality is about so much more than Netflix and gifs.

Thinking about other essential services like electricity, it would be a bit like charging you one amount to power your fridge and a different amount to power your lights or TV.

You may have heard of the term ‘Internet of Things’. Put simply, the Internet of Things is the concept of connecting devices to the internet and/or to each other. This includes everything from smartphones, coffee makers, washing machines, lights and almost anything else you can think of.

Wi-fi and sensors and faster internet speeds are all leading us towards this more connected environment. And it won’t just affect the way we go our grocery shopping, surf the web and watch TV. It’s going to affect our workplaces, our healthcare and our infrastructure and pretty much every aspect of our lives.

Connectivity and the Internet of Things and an increase in technology will bring some benefits to our lives. It’s going to make things quicker, easier, safer and more efficient. For example, robots that do dangerous jobs for us and better access to health services for people living in remote areas. It also means things are going to be more personalised. Think about implanted devices that monitor your body and report that data straight to the cloud to monitor for anything irregular and then alerts your doctor.

This might sound like a distant future reality but it’s actually much closer than you might think. And the benefits of all this data and connectedness also opens up questions of security and privacy concerns that we need to deal with. It also leads to concerns around equity and making sure everyone has the same access to technology. And this is where net neutrality could be a stepping stone to some much bigger questions.

Our team at Data61’s research suggests our work, home and transport experiences will be massively changed as the internet becomes a key part of any city’s infrastructure. We’re developing tools and platforms to help reduce the uncertainty for decision makers and provide innovative solutions to city problems.