Network neutrality and coronavirus: reflections on the internet


We are used to considering the internet as a neutral, reliable and unlimited resource. However, the crisis we are experiencing teaches us that this is not always true.

Few people talk about it but the internet is experiencing its first real crisis since it was created. The massive recourse to smart working, with all that this entails in terms of traffic, the abnormal use of audio-video conferencing both for work and for social and leisure (also thanks to the free availability of major platforms), the paroxysmal use of social and web media with a continuous exchange of images and videos, are putting in serious difficulty the network that cannot withstand such a high load of traffic.

Net neutrality means that these problems affect everyone without distinction. However, if it can be annoying to make a video conference call with voice or jerky picture when you are connecting with family or friends, it is certainly more serious if it is in a work environment. Even critical if we are talking about health (digital and non-digital).

Let’s imagine the consequences on tele-visits, tele-consultations between doctors, or on tele-health applications.

The European Union, aware of this situation, has asked the major content providers to limit video resolution, so as to occupy less bandwidth. Netflix has decided to lower the bitrate by 25%, while YouTube has suspended HD.

The idea of asking people to make conscious use of the Internet also seems to be ineffective; the obligation to stay at home and boredom amplify a habit that is now deeply rooted in our society.

Then there is another aspect that needs to be considered. Until now, net neutrality has been a paradigm accepted by all, although there has been no lack of discussion on how to restart and differentiate the use of Internet. But what would happen if, with the worsening of the crisis, the United States decided that the internet is a strategic resource and forced the major providers (which are American) to limit services to other countries?

Can we base a series of critical services only on the Internet, counting on the fact that the network will always remain neutral and available to all? This is a question that some people are beginning to ask for, and which deserves deep reflection.

Internet is today a strategic and precious resource like water: please don’t waste it!


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