There have been a lot of media articles focused on net neutrality in the past months, so this concept most probably has not escaped your attention. Net neutrality basically does exactly what it says: it is the principle that the internet should be a neutral tool that does not discriminate either against its users or against the content that they post.
Ok, but what does it mean?
Basically, the internet should not charge more to some users than to others, or charge more for viewing some types of content as opposed to others. In addition, content featuring a particular type of political opinion should not be made more prominent than content that features opposing political opinions. With the Google algorithm, the key determinant deciding which content appears high in search engine rankings is the quality of it. Illegal content will be removed, though potentially offensive content will be filtered out and users may need to opt-in to see it. Otherwise, the aim is to make Google searches ‘neutral’. The inventor of the internet himself, Tim Berners-Lee, is a vocal supporter of the principle of net neutrality.
Net neutrality in different countries
Though net neutrality sounds like an overarching and universal principle, the way in which it is implemented (or not implemented) differs from country to country. In some countries, governments will not adhere to net neutrality. They will slow down, or completely block traffic to certain websites. This might include websites that endorse their political opponents, or it might mean websites that display content that is illegal in that country (for example, narcotics-related content or pornographic sites). Other countries, which do have the idea of a neutral web enshrined in law, may still implement this principle in different ways. In the US, for example, service providers such as Tumblr and Google have been debating whether this principle means that they should allow links to their competitors to appear on their sites. Is it ‘not neutral’ to block or filter out such links?
Why would anyone want to bypass net neutrality?
There are many reasons why you might be wondering how to overcome net neutrality:
- Perhaps you are a passionate poker player and want to play in a country where all gambling sites are blocked?
- Or, perhaps there is a certain type of content that you do want to access, but it is hard to do so in your home country because the principle of a neutral net is impeding your progress.
- Maybe you are simply doing a project for school or for your own interest that discusses what is it like to access the internet in a country where the web is not neutral?
Whatever your reasons are, there’s a way out and it’s a Virtual Private Network.
So, can a VPN get around net neutrality?
The short answer is ‘yes’. But how does it work? If you use a VPN in a country with neutrality principle, data you access using your connection will still be presented in a ‘neutral’ fashion. But if you select a country for your VPN where the principle of a neutral net is not in force, the data that you view on the web will not be presented in this neutral way. Doing a little experiment with a VPN and net neutrality in this way can be very eye-opening. Why not try it? Especially now when you know how to bypass net neutrality with a VPN.
The presentation of a whole swathe of carefully filtered content whenever you perform a search, and the inability to access certain sites that seem to be live but never seem to load because their content is undesirable to the authorities… it really helps you to think more critically about the way that we consume data on the web. Then, when you use a VPN with net neutrality in place again, you will definitely be able to appreciate this principle even more fully as you surf the web and take in various opposing points of view.