Net neutrality has been all over the news for a while now, and especially these past few weeks. As is often the case these days, once an issue becomes contentious or controversial, misinformation becomes common. Net neutrality is especially controversial as lobbying groups on both sides have been spending tremendous sums of money on marketing what they want us to believe. As such, I thought it was important to ask what truly is net neutrality, and why should you care? Let’s dig in.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality refers to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) providing every website and all types of content on the web with equal access and service. Websites are not blocked or restricted and data is transferred by the ISP at roughly the same speed. No websites or content providers are favored, and none are forced to pay extra fees in order to gain access to “fast lanes.” If net neutrality is rolled back, ISPs could start favoring some websites and could slow down others.
With net neutrality in effect, everyone and every website is treated as essentially being the same by the ISP. Let’s say you head to Youtube to watch a music video, and then after that, you head to Netflix to watch a TV show. Your ISP will deliver the content at roughly the same speed. This is the “neutral” Internet.
Of course, some websites are really fast, while others are quite slow. However, this is usually due to the choices of the content provider. They might not have adequate servers, or they might use outdated technology, such as flash. If net neutrality is rolled back, however, some websites might be slowed down simply because the ISP has placed them in a slow lane.
Why Should I Care About Net Neutrality?
Consider the immensely popular Netflix. Millions of Americans now have a Netflix subscription and enjoy streaming movies and TV shows on their computers and TVs. Streaming video content, especially in HD, consumes a lot of data. Netflix has also hurt many cable companies, like Comcast, as many Americans have “cut the cord”, and canceled their expensive cable subscriptions. Many have opted to use cheaper streaming services instead.
Many cable TV companies are also among the biggest Internet Service Providers, and have used the infrastructure they already put in place to deliver TV, to also deliver Internet services. So, Comcast or another ISP could decide to place Netflix and other streaming services in the slow lane, while favoring their own content by putting it in the fast lane.
Netflix and other companies could then be forced to pay hefty fees if they want to be in the fast lane. Any fees these companies have to pay would be passed onto consumers, meaning your streaming service subscriptions might rise substantially. Another option might be to force Internet subscribers to buy Internet packages similar to current cable packages. Want to be able to access Netflix, Amazon, and the New York Times with high speed Internet? You might have to pay for a package that includes your favorite websites.
With net neutrality, ISPs cannot create slow and fast lanes. ISPs can cap data used by consumers and charge you based on the data you consume. This does allow ISPs to set and adjust prices and to account for people who consume large amounts of data. At the same time, consumers can still choose how to “spend” or use their data. However without net neutrality – that freedom is gone. You can have all the available bandwidth in the world, but a website in the slow lane will still be slow.
How Can I Support Net Neutrality?
First. Call your House Representative in Congress. Then, call your Senators. No, you likely won’t get on the phone with your actual representatives. Most likely, you’ll talk to a staffer or get an answering machine. Yes, members of Congress do, in fact, track and listen to their constituents. After that, shoot off an email to your local representatives and officials as well. They can’t influence national policy directly, but they can pass along messages. Your phone calls and emails don’t have to be detailed, just provide your name, the city you live in, and a simple message like “I don’t support the ending of net neutrality because I believe it will stifle innovation and hurt consumers.”
Next, post up your thoughts on social media and explain to your friends and family why you don’t support the roll back of net neutrality. The better the argument, the better the post. Also, mention how ending net neutrality could hurt them. After that, urge them to likewise get in touch with their Senators and Congressional representatives. A little bit of digital activism can go a long way.
There are several other websites that offer petitions and other ways to get involved, such as Save The Internet. Make sure you check them out! Besides that, stay engaged, and be vigilant.