Everything You Need to Know About Net Neutrality

With posts covering your social media timelines and newsfeed telling you to stand up against net neutrality and to call your local congressman or senator, you’ve probably been left with some questions, like, what frankly is net neutrality? And why should you care? The answers aren’t completely simple and many people across the political spectrum have largely varying opinions concerning the matter. In order to help you understand and form your own opinions, the issue can be broken down.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that your internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, shouldn’t be able to alter the speed or block the content of whatever you may be attempting to access online. For example, with net neutrality, your ISP shouldn’t be able to unfairly speed up your internet when you’re attempting to access a website that they own and slow down the speed of the internet for competitors’ websites. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted and passed into law the rules that we refer to as net neutrality, but are also known as the Open Internet Order.

What this order does is classify broadband providers as Title II common carriers under the Communications Act causing internet service to be treated as a utility in the eyes of the law. By being treated as a utility all ISPs must treat content being delivered to their customers equally. This order was passed in an effort to keep the interference of big corporations out of the open online landscape that we have all come to know. However, broadband and telecom companies claim that the freedom to charge differing prices for different products and services is vital to a healthy marketplace and this ability to fluctuate and change is unavailable to them under the classifications of Title II. According to the New York Times, the overall goal of net neutrality was to “acknowledge the essential role of high-speed internet access as a gateway to modern communication, information, entertainment, and economic opportunity” by evening the playing field for all consumers involved.

Courtesy: : Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

Why is everyone talking about the issue now when the rules were passed over two years ago?

It is now a topic of conversation because the conversation about an open internet never really came to a close when the rules were put into action. Instead, the conversation was simply dulled down. Back this past April discussion of new plans concerning net neutrality began behind closed doors between the new FCC and industry lobbyists. Then on May 18th, the FCC made a vote to move the proposal they drafted forward.

On Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC is planning to have a vote to revoke the Open Internet Order so that they may instead adopt the Restoring Internet Freedom Order which aims to undo the regulations placed on ISPs. The current FCC who will be voting on the order consists of two Democrats, who have both shown in previous votes their favor for net neutrality, and three Republicans, including the new FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Under Pai’s new proposal the previous rules that ISPs had to abide by will be replaced by voluntary conditions of oversight and voluntary disclosure of company actions.

Courtesy: TechSpot

What does all of this mean for you?

According to the FCC, the internet is simply going to go back to how it had functioned prior to 2015. However, despite whatever promises that the FCC makes, it is important to know about the possible changes that may occur to the internet as we know it today as a result of overturning the current regulations. Without net neutrality, cable and phone companies have the ability to play a large role in what you can say online and what people can see from you online; this extends outside of placing your posts far down on your friends’ Instagram feed. The companies would have the capability of slowing down access to or completely blocking content that they disagree with, so, if the corporation doesn’t have positive opinions on certain political movements then they would be able to reduce your view of those movements in the online community. Additionally, corporations would be able to have the last call on which websites, content, and apps are able to succeed through their abilities to block and control the speed of content.

This ability of large corporations to play a heavy-handed role puts small, medium, and new online-based start-ups at risk because the large corporations would be able to decide the winners and losers at the end of the line. If innovative new websites are threats to phone and cable companies’ bottom line, through a new website’s abilities to offer alternatives to cable TV or phone service then it isn’t out of this world to think that the big businesses aren’t going to want to let the sites grow to their full potential. Additionally, without net neutrality in place, there is nothing to stop the format that our internet services are currently sold into different packages like bundles similar to the way that cable television is currently sold.

Courtesy: Imgur

The internet isn’t the same as it was in 2015: it’s impossible to go back to exactly how the internet functioned before because the internet is something that has never been completely stable and has always been changing. Think back to how you remember the internet being when you were young. The online world is nothing like that anymore, is it? Even a two-year divide is enough time for change to occur and not just in online atmospheres, but in the decisions and desires of large corporations as well.