Internet freedom and the war on Net neutrality

The Internet war



Christina Crawford




It can be safely assumed that Americans believe the Internet is thought to be a universally open, uncensored and level playing field for everyone that accesses it.

The Net was built on the foundation that everything made publicly accessible can be found or shared among the Net community. This allows aspiring artists to grow an underground fanbase or for YouTube celebrities to emerge. Writers can compete in hard-hitting journalism and information can be shared freely.

However, currently there’s an invisible war being waged around the world. The neutrality of the Net is at risk, and the ability for companies to discriminately censor access to websites as well as charge tolls to view them is an impending threat.

Internal and international control of the Net, including censorship, is a topic that is relatively unheard of. The Net has become a common mode to access information, but these topics are hard to find. Every so often, news on the war for Net neutrality will surface.

The OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative partnership of Munk School of Global Affairs, the Berkman Center for Net & Society, and the SecDev Group. ONI tracks Net censorship around the world based on political basis, social topics, conflict and security content, and Net tools such as search, email, translation and voice-over Net phone service.

Global Net censorship has been studied by ONI since 2009 and includes as many as 75 countries.

In ONI’s 2013 report, countries with high levels of variance in censorship, depending on which Net service provider is used, include China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Syria. Some countries may not have been accurately reflected due to actively disguised filtering, and could potentially have high levels of censorship as well. The United States and United Kingdom are two countries that have shown ambiguity in measuring censorship based on different ISPs.

Freedom on the Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media assesses the decline of Net freedom in sixty countries in the past three years. The full report indicates countries’ Net freedom on a scale of 1-100 where points are accrued based on obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights.

The four countries with the lowest scores, increasing in level of freedom are the United States, Germany, Estonia and Iceland. The four countries with the least Net freedom scored 85 or higher and in ascending order are Syria, China, Cuba and Iran. The median score of the 60 countries is 45. None of the countries had a score of zero.

Google Inc., owner of the website YouTube, is commonly asked by other governments to remove videos that show civil unrest, anti-government speeches, rallies and violent riots.

In order to prevent the Net from becoming a tool to quickly spread information and unrest, many governments ask to remove these types of videos from becoming accessible, especially from within countries experiencing political turbulence and civil unrest.

According to the Google Transparency report, removal requests based on defamation accounted for 39 percent of requests since July 2010, and followed by privacy and security at 18 percent. These are largely international requests in the form of government court orders, executive orders and police requests.

YouTube policy for censorship includes:

limiting public exposure to content that may ignite social or political unrest, and preventing criticism of a ruler, government, government officials, religion, or religious leaders.

For the past two years, the fight to keep the Net a neutral zone has been threatened and thus far defeated, but Net users rarely hear about it. The most hotly debated battle has been whether or not service providers should be able to charge websites on a pay-per-view basis.

For example, an ISP provides broadband services to Net consumers. They then charge an additional traffic toll to websites that want to be available through their service. A search site wants to be available to that ISP’s users, so they sign a contract stipulating for every Net user that receives Net service through that provider, the search site must pay for each time their page is viewed by those subscribers.

If the search site decides they don’t want to enter into this contract, and another search site wants to pay the toll, the ISP can decide to make one search engine unavailable to their subscribers or bog down their connection so users will want to use the contract search engine’s unhindered site instead.

In the Preserving the Open Internet ruling, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted three open Net rules. The third rule states clearly:

“Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service.”

Soon after, leading wireless communications provider Verizon sought to overturn this rule.

In Feb. 2013, the case summary for Verizon v. FCC was released. The FCC summarized their response to Verizon.

“…the record before the Commission showed multiple incidents of broadband

providers interfering with their customers’ ability to use Internet services… [the FCC] also

identified a trio of powerful economic incentives, amplified by increasing

technological capability and limited competition among broadband providers,

to discriminate among edge providers and to block customer access to

Internet sites of their choosing” (Verizon v. FCC, p. 18).

Matt Wood, Free Press policy director, firmly advocates Net neutrality.

“…the American people need an open and public communications network and a strong agency that protects the public from abusive corporate practices. If the FCC abdicates that broader role, there will be serious negative consequences for consumers, competition and innovation,” Wood said.

ONI’s country profiles, regional overviews, and the filtering map can be viewed at


Freedom House’s PDF Freedom on the Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media can be found at


For more information on this topic, visit

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Internet freedom and the war on Net neutrality

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