UN expert applauds US decision guaranteeing ‘net neutrality’

Photo: ITU

27 February 2015 – The United States Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to establish new regulations protecting so-called net neutrality, or the equal treatment of all Internet traffic, is “a real victory” for freedom of expression and access to information, a United Nations human rights expert said today.

“I hope the new rules may serve as a model for other governments seeking to protect or expand an open and secure Internet,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, explained in a news release.

“It is especially important that the new rules prevent ISPs [internet service providers] from discriminating against some types of content in favour of others, either by slowing down delivery speeds or by creating a fast lane to ensure quicker delivery for only some content providers that have paid extra fees.”

With the FCC decision, the United States (US) joins a small number of countries – Brazil, Chile, and the Netherlands – that have adopted net neutrality rules in an effort to support “a free and open” Internet and ensure continued access to any lawful content individuals choose, “without restriction or interference from ISPs.

In addition, the decision classifies broadband Internet as a public utility, permitting its regulation by the FCC similar to the way the agency regulates telephone service and other utilities.

Net neutrality’s importance has been long debated by law and technology experts. In instances where it is not applied, ISPs may, at their own initiative or through governmental pressure, charge fees when granting speedier traffic to websites or discriminate against particular content by slowing down or blocking access to certain websites.

“It was by no means assured that the FCC would adopt these rules after years of consideration and public comment,” Mr. Kaye continued, as he urged all States to revisit their own Internet policies and consider similar action in guaranteeing net neutrality to their citizens.

“Moving forward, I hope that implementation of the rules will be marked by the same openness that led to the rules themselves.”

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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