Why is America's Internet Slow?

Who Owns the Internet?

Everyone knows this sight: a loading bar that only fills up slowly, a constantly turning cog. It is moving forward, that is to say, the time will come soon. But actually the sight only evokes a feeling - and everyone knows that: It's annoying!

Activists worldwide, large US Internet companies and organizations such as Greenpeace fear that such loading bars will soon become the norm - and have now protested against major Internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast or AT&T with this loading symbol (article image) on their websites. "You are the cable team - we are the Internet team. We are fighting for the Internet," it says meaningfully on the campaign website. It is about the future and the basic rights of internet users.

As exaggerated as the choice of words seems, the issue at stake is just as urgent: net neutrality. In the USA there is currently a discussion about whether this should be abolished by law. The topic has not yet been settled. So far, all data was sent equally quickly (or: equally slowly) - regardless of who it came from or what it contained. Internet providers want to change that: They are planning so-called "data superhighways" for companies that consume a lot of data. These should then cost more money. All other data would be treated as secondary. Should this happen, it would be "the beginning of the end for the Internet as we know it," said US Senator Al Franken in the spring.

Top Democrat Nancy Pelosi also wrote a public letter to the chairman of the responsible Federal Commission for Communication (FCC) in the USA: "I fear that the FCC will act in a way that Internet providers allow would discriminate against consumers and innovators. "

Basically, the question is who owns the internet: has it become a public good or an economic one? The Internet is democratic, say network activists, and should remain so. We need more money for investments, say the operators.

Activists: "Without net neutrality there are no startups, no innovations."

The "Democrats" argue, among other things, as follows: Since all data has been treated equally so far, even companies with little start-up capital had the opportunity to drive innovations without having to worry about the costs of increased data traffic. Many refer to the online world as "a large playground".

There are many stories of founders who founded successful companies around the world in their garage or a small dorm room. Facebook is the most famous example in the West. If net neutrality is abolished, such stories will soon no longer exist, fears not only the politician Pelosi.

The discussion about the protest action live on Twitter

Operator: "The cables cost money, so multiple users have to pay."

The network operators argue like this: More and more people are using the Internet for more and more things. Numerous users watch videos online or are increasingly uploading their files to so-called "cloud" hard drives, which they can access from anywhere. A huge amount of data is created that is to be transported from the user's computer to the servers and back. Internet providers need cables for this. However, since these are now almost fully utilized, new ones have to be laid. It costs.

In Germany, large internet providers like Telekom or Vodafone and government representatives in the "Netzallianz" talk about who should pay for these cables: State or operator?

But the Internet providers want to make profits in the short term - also in order to raise the costs necessary for laying the cables, it is said. That's why they have developed a new strategy: Large companies that use a lot of data should pay more.

The video streaming provider Netflix, which is successful in the USA, has already had to pay a special fee to its network provider Comcast. Comcast had temporarily throttled the data speed, which led to the fact that the videos often stalled with the users. Comcast was able to charge these extra fees because there are still no legal regulations in the USA that would stop them. Ultimately, so the advocates of net neutrality fear, Netflix will pass the costs on to the users.

Net neutrality is almost nowhere in the law

The debate is currently boiling up in the USA, but it is also preoccupying many other countries in the same or a similar way. Because almost nowhere is data transfer on the Internet legally regulated. Chile and the Netherlands are two of the few countries that have enshrined net neutrality in law. With a few exceptions, all data is treated in the same way there. At the beginning of 2014 there was a legislative proposal in the EU to ensure net neutrality. But the member states have not yet transposed this into national law.