In the US, the freedom to tap the resource that we know as the Internet has been limited by its Federal Communications Commission (FCC), when it decided to repeal its “net neutrality” regulations. In a nutshell, net neutrality is “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or Web sites.”
The Internet has become a facet of daily life in the Philippines. From toddlers learning their ABCs on iPads, to students reading their e-books for school, to lawyers researching materials for their next court filing, the almost unlimited resources at our disposal is often taken for granted.
In the Philippines, there is presently no law, rule, or regulation that limits or promotes net neutrality. It is readily observable, however, that Internet access in the Philippines is generally neutral, save for a few pornographic sites that are banned for legal purposes.
There are also some instances where mobile Internet service providers are not neutral in the strict sense. An example would be enabling mobile data to freely access Facebook, but the same mobile data cannot freely access other Internet resources. Other examples would be when mobile service providers charge an additional fee for “data packets” for specific applications, such as Spotify, Instagram, and Netflix, or inversely, when providers consider these packets as “free” inclusions within a specific phone plan.
Is there, then, a need for our own net neutrality regulations?
Considering the extensive use of the Internet in our country, it is easy to suggest that there is a great need for net neutrality rules to be enacted. It may be a question of whether there is a necessity for written rules or whether we should just rely on and replicate how other countries run their Internet policies. Opting for the former option may be most desirable for our country, considering the avowed state policies declared in recent legislative enactments.
In RA No. 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act, it was declared as state policy “to promote an environment for the development of structures that would ensure the availability and accessibility to reliable and secure Internet access suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation.” Thus, free access to Internet service in public places was enacted, to “promote knowledge-building among citizens and enable them to participate and compete in the evolving information and communication age.”
Even RA No. 10844, the law that created the Department of Information and Communications Technology, recognizes as a state policy the need “to foster an ICT sector policy environment that will promote a broad market-led development of the ICT and ICT-enabled services (ICT-ES) sectors, a level playing field, partnership between the public and private sectors, strategic alliance with foreign investors and balanced investments between high-growth and economically-depressed areas” and “to ensure consumer protection and welfare, data privacy and security, foster competition and the growth of the ICT sector.”
With these policies already in place, it can be seen that the state has recognized the necessity and importance of free and accessible information, without discriminating as to source or content, save for limited exceptions.
Data is data, whether these be used to access music, documents, social media, or bitcoins. The lack of net neutrality rules may be used as basis for future actions of service providers to intensify its efforts to “packet” data for specific uses for a fee. This may result in, as observed by experts, the general public having different informational experiences — some having access to more quality information, while some having access to only bad information, which may include fake news, spam, and false advertising.
Net neutrality may hit the “Free Facebook” part of the population, but it will also greatly benefit the public in general, as access to the entirety of the vast domain of the Internet will not be subjected to the whims or profit motives of private service providers.
Antonio Bonifacio C. Reynes is an associate at the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).