Net neutrality rules may address many issues of the internet users in Indonesia. Indonesia, however, doesn’t have such protections. The time is ripe for the country to adopt them.
Net neutrality is the concept that requires ISPs to treat all web traffic equally. Under these principles, ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to slow down, speed up or block certain websites, or give preferential treatment in exchange for payment.
The situation with internet usage in Indonesia is quite intriguing. The number of internet users is growing rapidly; half of the population – 112 million – used the internet in 2017. The internet quality, however, is poorer than in other countries.
One may wonder why net neutrality does matter for a country like Indonesia.
Without net neutrality rules, the government has exacerbated further, perhaps unintentionally, the digital divide – the gaps between the haves and have-nots. Differential pricing of the internet connection, especially mobile data charges, has limited customers’ choice and access to information. Those who do not want or unable to pay more for certain services are automatically excluded from benefiting fully from the whole range of information. Internet is becoming a two-tier service: one is for the rich, another – for the poor.
When ISPs are allowed to charge services and content providers for priority access, big tech companies benefit the most. After Facebook Zero was launched in 2015, the number of its users doubled from 22 million in 2016 to 45 million in 2017. One may reasonably argue that, like in Germany, Facebook’s dominant position in Indonesia not only pulls in more and more new users, but also limits their ability to leave this free service.
Another worrying implication of the absence of net neutrality rules is internet censorship. It was alleged that the government and ISPs have been abusing their power. ISPs can legally blacklist any content and website deemed “negative” or “illegal” without public consultation. As of December 2017, around 800,000 websites have already been banned, among them local media in West Papua reporting on human right violations. The government openly projects that 30 million websites in total will be blocked. This project will cost taxpayers 20M USD. Critics fear this has been designed to curb the freedom of speech and to silence dissenting opinions.
The absence of net neutrality rules has prevented Indonesia to reap the economic and social benefits of internet. Nevertheless, a public debate about net neutrality is non existent.
The internet access is a basic human right, and we should demand a free and open internet. Indonesia should follow the example of India which has proven how to shape the policy for the internet to work for everyone. Collaborative efforts of ordinary citizens, activists, civic society organisations, regulators and private companies would be required to achieve this goal. If India can “have the world’s strongest net-neutrality protections”, why can’t Indonesia have the same?