What Is Net Neutrality and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?

Net neutrality is a phrase that has been trending almost daily in recent weeks. If you’re struggling to keep up with the conversation, you’re not alone. Many people don’t understand the importance of net neutrality because, for most Americans, net neutrality is the status quo. It’s the internet we’re accustomed to using every day.

The majority of us can log on to the internet and access any information we want, at any time we want, without the content being filtered or the speed being restricted in any way. Our internet service providers are essentially neutral and provide us the same access to services whether we are using Facebook, downloading a scientific report or streaming a movie on Netflix.

Image: Pixbay

Image: Pixbay

That’s the essence of net neutrality: a free and open internet that users can access without discrimination or interference from governments or internet service providers relating to users, content, platforms, applications, equipment or websites.

Why Now?

Net neutrality isn’t a new topic. In fact, we wrote about it on Borderless News and Views here and here back in 2014. So why is net neutrality now trending daily? There are several reasons:

  • Corporate Interests: A free and open internet is at odds with telecom companies who want to charge consumers more money for accessing certain content.
  • The Trump Administration: President Trump has already rolled back protections put in place to protect consumers, allowing internet service providers to sell consumer data without permission.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: Pai was appointed by President Trump and is working to roll back many of the net neutrality protections that were put in place under the Obama administration.
  • Verizon Wireless: The telecom giant recently admitted to throttling video streaming speeds in what some believe to be a violation of existing FCC net neutrality regulations.
  • Day of Action: On July 12, 2017, more than 80,000 websites, including tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Reddit joined together for a Day of Action to support net neutrality and encourage supporters to speak up about a free and open internet.

 

Why Should We Care?

It can be tempting to dismiss net neutrality as a problem relating only to government overreach and corporate greed. However, the issue is much larger than that. Once we lose the protections of a free and open internet, it would be nearly impossible to get them back.

Image: Pixbay

Image: Pixbay

Imagine an internet where your every online movement can be tracked and monitored by the government and your internet service provider without cause. Without the protections of net neutrality, internet service providers could potentially prohibit customers from using security tools such as proxy software services or Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to encrypt data on their networks. These tools make it more difficult for your online movements to be monitored, so ISPs could prohibit their use to make it easier to monitor what you’re doing online. It’s even conceivable that you could be denied access to the internet entirely.

Those are extreme examples, but when rights are chipped away a little at a time, we often end up giving up more than we realize over time. Though the current net neutrality conversation often revolves around streaming and content, don’t forget the ultimate stakes are much higher than the quality of your Netflix stream.

 

_____

About the Author: Carla is a freelance writer and internet security expert. She is passionate about net neutrality and advocating for a free and open internet around the globe. She frequently contributes to several websites, including The Right Side of Truth.