Net Neutrality and Projekt Neptun
The internet has become the single most important tool for the dispersion of information for both Projekt Neptun as well as for our customers. Internet access is essential for students of all fields to access libraries and archives, to check their grades, to collaborate, and to upload their seminar papers. Similarly, we at Projekt Neptun prepare and communicate our Neptun Waves primarily over the net and during the few weeks we actually sell devices, any interruption in our line of communication to our customers would be fatal. Net neutrality, a principle the US famously abandoned last year, is supposed to ensure that our and your access to the internet will not be blocked by artificial obstacles.
What is net neutrality
Net neutrality mandates that all data sent over the internet should be treated equally. This means that data sent by Alice should not be prioritized over the data sent by Bob, neither by speeding Alice’s data up nor by slowing Bob’s data down. Although this principle might sound simple, there are lots of subtle ways in which it can be broken: An ISP (Internet service provider) may slow down a 3rd party’s video streaming service, making it unusable, with the claim that it puts too much strain on their network, while letting the IPS’s own video streaming service run without such interruptions. Or an ISP might delay text messages coming from the customers of a competing ISP to “encourage” these people to switch networks. A third option, which is widely popular with Switzerland’s mobile carriers, is to partner with companies in a process that is called “zero rating” to exempt said company’s data from any data limits for their customers cell phone plans. Zero rating gives companies that can afford to partner with ISPs a substantial advantage over those which cannot, since their services suddenly stop counting against a cell phone user’s precious data allowance.
All these options of slowing down, speeding up, or not counting data give ISPs a huge amount of power over how people can use the internet. Additionally, large companies that can afford the special tolls imposed on their access to their customers are much less affected by broken net neutrality than start-ups and small companies that are just entering the market. ISPs claim that net neutrality stands in the way of innovative new services and threatens their further investment into the infrastructure of the internet. However, both these claims have yet to materialize in actual facts.
The legal situation in Switzerland
Net neutrality is not part of the Telecommunications Act (Fernmeldegesetz), which governs telecommunications services in Switzerland. However, several of the larger ISPs in Switzerland have agreed on a voluntary code of conduct which is supposed to make any regulations by the legislator unnecessary. Naturally, this code of conduct is far off from actual net neutrality and its voluntary nature requires that Swiss internet users put their entire trust into the promises of their ISP. For 2018, a revision of the Telecommunications Act is planned, which may include a renewed attempt of putting net neutrality into law.
The concerns for Projekt Neptun
Projekt Neptun offers depend heavily on our customer’s unhindered access to our website. During the Neptun Waves, even small interruptions like our website loading slowly can badly affect our customers’ experience during their visit. That is why we optimize our website and server infrastructure to handle the load during those two busy months in autumn and spring. In theory, however, since we are not the only ones trying to create special offers during those months, an ISP may suddenly decide to slow down our access to our customers, either to privilege their own competing offers, or to charge us an additional fee to remove the roadblocks. The big IT retailers in Switzerland may be able to afford such a fee, but Projekt Neptun, as a non-profit foundation, is certainly not. Naturally, this is an extreme example of what could happen in an internet without net neutrality and such actions would almost certainly be met with a heavy political backlash. Nevertheless, the last few years have shown that some ISPs have used their power in more subtle ways and their code of conduct does not curtail this behavior in any way. Therefore, Projekt Neptun supports the idea of non-discriminatory internet access which will continue to allow us to offer the special deals to students and employees in higher education in Switzerland at the beginning of each semester.