What Is Net Neutrality, and Why Is It So Important?

This Wednesday, July 12, will serve as a day of collective action to protest the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) plan to roll back rules previously established to protect net neutrality. President Trump’s FCC chair pick, Ajit Pai, wasted no time in announcing these intentions after occupying the position.

The topic of net neutrality may come across as intimidating, but in truth it’s quite a simple concept.

What is “net neutrality”?

Boiled down, net neutrality refers to a policy in which internet service providers do not treat all content equally. Traditionally, access to content — like a given website or a streaming video — was only limited by the hardware of the end user and the speed between that user, their internet service provider and the server hosting the desired content.

Therefore, access was primarily a matter of technical capability. For instance, an internet user in Seattle might have been more likely to load a video faster if it was hosted in California, rather than somewhere much further away, like Spain. But without net neutrality, artificial barriers to access will be put in place.

What will internet use be like without net neutrality?

Here is a useful way to think about the internet today, with the FCC’s net neutrality rules still in place: Every weekend, you and your family enjoy visiting one of two out-of-town destinations as a nice getaway. Driving to either place takes roughly the same time, so the expense for gas ends up about the same — though another variable, like road work, might occasionally mean a detour and a slower route. In the end, however, the destination you and your family pick depends on personal preference more than anything else.

But without the FCC’s net neutrality rules, this scenario would look rather different.

Even though both destinations should take the same amount of gas — and thus, cost — a toll both has been erected on one of the roads. So now traveling to one destination suddenly costs more –- perhaps not a substantial amount, but enough to affect your decision. Naturally, low-income families may be more inclined to visit the destination without a toll booth.

This is essentially how the internet will operate without net neutrality. Internet service providers, perhaps through a deal with another company, will throttle or otherwise hinder access to competitors.

Some providers may introduce new user fees — i.e. you can gain unrestricted access to your favorite streaming service if you pay your internet service provider an extra $10 per month. Others may utilize advertisements that must be viewed every few minutes or for every new link clicked. Or they may simply throttle the load speed of a particular website.

With a choice between quick, reliable access and access predicated on fees and irritating advertisements, it is not hard to foresee that many individuals would opt for the the former choice.

Interview: Caleb Chen

I spoke with Caleb Chen, the director of marketing for Private Internet Access, a virtual private network service that aims to protect its users’ privacy while advocating for an open and unrestricted world wide web. Chen’s background also includes a Master’s in Digital Currency.

I asked Chen to describe what he believed internet users could expect if the FCC axes its net neutrality rules — and he seemed even more pessimistic than I about this possible future:

Without net neutrality, we will see ISPs — internet service providers — and mobile data providers start throttling wherever they can. Around the world, in jurisdictions where net neutrality rules don’t exist, we can see the types of zero rating and net neutrality violation that will happen in the U.S.

“Zero rating” refers to online content providers who are essentially whitelisted by ISPs -– in other words, websites that are selectively not being restricted or throttled.

Chen explained that users of services like Facebook or Netflix will “inevitably” face a situation in which they must pay for more expensive plans to be granted zero rating access. He told me that, ultimately, “internet service providers stand to gain the most from the end of net neutrality,” with the majority of internet users being left in the cold — especially those “that don’t have much choice in broadband providers.”

How will an end to net neutrality affect thought and conversation?

Aside from leaving internet users shortchanged, the end of net neutrality in the U.S. could also have the potential to actively alter the way people consume information and news. For example, if users are left to choose whether to pay for News Corp — Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which includes Fox News — or, say, the Huffington Post network to be zero rated, people may select the outlet that most aligns with their pre-existing political world view.

And in an era when people are increasingly finding themselves trapped in their digital echo chambers, the end of net neutrality would certainly  intensify this phenomenon.

What’s more, without enforced net neutrality, there will be a devastating impact for not only burgeoning small businesses but also on independent journalism. With Americans’ mounting distaste for mainstream media, it would seem that preserving net neutrality would be favorable to people on both ends of the political spectrum.

How do I take action?

This Wednesday is Net Neutrality Day of Action. Now that you know what’s at stake, it is time to make your voice heard. When I asked how the average American can best do this, Chen told me that it is supremely important for concerned parties to submit a formal comment to the FCC while they still can.

Better yet, Americans should plan to do so on July 12, as part of a collective attempt to get the FCC’s attention.

To do so should take no more than a few minutes. Simply navigate to the FCC’s comment page. Then, look for the blue link labeled “Express” to bring up a submission form.

FCCcomment2

The next step is rather simple: Just add some basic information about yourself — for “Name(s) of Flier(s),” simply put your full name — and include a comment expressing whether or not you support ending the enforcement of net neutrality You may be as brief or verbose as you prefer. Then click “Continue to review screen,” double check your comment and click “Submit.”

If enough people make their voices heard, the FCC may very well reverse course on net neutrality.

Photo Credit: Free Press/Flickr

57 comments

Marie W
Marie W8 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Carl R
Carl Rabout a year ago

Thamnks!!!

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Carl R
Carl Rabout a year ago

Thanks!!!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie Fabout a year ago

Thank you

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Angela K
Angela Kabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

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David F
David Fabout a year ago

Peggy B, Watched your video, and it made no sense, somehow it wanted everyone to trust a government monopoly run by politicians so everyone would have equally slow and expensive internet instead of a free market internet where we could chose whatever provider suited our needs.

Their comparing the internet to an electric utility made zero sense, we can choose who provides power based on competition and price.
If nothing else, net neutrality would be a overwhelming burden on smaller start up companies and a new tax windfall for the ruling class.
With Government control, eventually expect a national sales tax on all internet transactions

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Philippa P
Philippa Pabout a year ago

Thanks.

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

I'm better with visual aids to remember something so here is a quick video on just one aspect of Net Neutrality. None of these links are partisan links .

https://www.commoncraft.com/video/net-neutrality

And Cnet's :
https://www.cnet.com/news/13-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-fccs-net-neutrality-regulation/

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

NET NEUTRALITY EXPLAINED
http://www.dummies.com/education/internet-basics/understanding-net-neutrality/

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

Paul B.... You got the 50% off BECAUSE we have net neutrality now. If they remove these protections there will be monopolies that drive out any competition at all. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand what that means. Monopolies are the worse thing for capitalism. They prevent the likes of you or me opening an opposing business. Monopolies were not alloweed in US at one time, but gee, that's gone now. How has that worked out for us?

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