Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know

With all of the controversy swirling around the topic of Net Neutrality, it can be hard to know what to trust and what to take with a boulder-sized grain of salt. For an issue that threatens to impact almost every aspect of our increasingly electronic daily lives, Net Neutrality remains relatively obscure, and thus ripe for manipulation and disinformation.

Highway...of Information?We’re here to set the record straight on Net Neutrality and provide an objective and independent opinion on what exactly it is, who the major players on each side of the issues are, what the government thinks, and why you should care.

What is it?

The first thing that you should know about net neutrality is that for the most part, we sort of already have it. Though a growing number of exceptions exist, the net as we know it tends to be neutral. But just what does that mean?

Neutrality means that the internet is an open space where all content and websites are treated equally. This means that, when you load a website, your ISP doesn’t care what website it is, and serves it up to you as fast as possible regardless of which website or app you’re using. The internet was built this way: imagine if, back in the 90s, AOL only allowed you to access its own crappy news portals?

Indeed, this openness—neutrality—is argued by many to have been integral to the development of the internet until now. Many argue that startups like Google and Facebook would have never been able to get off the ground without it.

What are the teams?

FootballGenerally, the teams can be broken down as establishment powers versus the major tech companies. Companies like Google, Netflix, and Apple are in favor of neutrality. Netflix and Google argue that they wouldn’t have ever become successful without it, and are committed to fighting for free and equal access to all websites.

On the other side, you have establishment powers like Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T. These companies are usually established internet providers who see that they could make some money by charging for premium content. Some companies, like Comcast, have a vested interest in seeing net neutrality end because of issues with competition. A service like Netflix cuts directly into the revenues of Comcast, who, as we can’t forget, is also in the business of providing TV shows. If Comcast is allowed to decrease the quality of Netflix’s service, they increase their own attractiveness to consumers.

What’s the US government doing about it?

The US government, via the FCC, is approaching net neutrality in the muddled and disorganized way it usually employs. The constant start-stop of court cases, appeals, and laws has produced a muddled and confused set of rules and regulations only partially enforced. Currently, the FCC is embedded in its third attempt to clarify its position, amid questions that it even has the authority to do so. The government’s position on net neutrality has always been hard to nail down, and the newest from the FCC seems to indicate that this confusing viewpoint will continue.

Why should I care?

Net neutrality is important because the opposite of neutrality means that your ISP can pick and choose which content to deliver to you at which speed, and choose to prioritize some websites and services over others. Let’s say you own a sports blog that gets large amounts of traffic: without net neutrality, you could be forced to pay extra money to ISPs in order to make sure that your website is delivered at a good speed. But what if you can’t pay as much as ESPN? Your blog might suffer.

This is the nutshell of the pro-neutrality argument: net neutrality means an open playing field for all. The internet as we know it, the erstwhile startups that we all love, all flourished and grew in the days of net neutrality. Without it, we might lose the chance to have whatever ones haven’t come yet.

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Russel Cooke is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) specialist and writer who recently relocated to Los Angeles, CA. You can follow Russ on Twitter @RusselCooke2.

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