What Is Net Neutrality and Why Should You Care?

Jul 12, 2017

Activist groups and internet companies from Google to Facebook and Netflix united to defend net neutrality Wednesday from a rollback of protections proposed by the Federal Communications Commission. But what exactly is net neutrality, and why are some of the biggest companies in the world trying to protect it?

Here's what you need to know:

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that the web is open to everyone, meaning that internet service providers can't block content or intentionally slow down load times for particular websites. The principle, which was initially approved by the FCC in 2010, essentially states that web access is a human right that should be available for all.

Why would internet service providers want to change that?

Because ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T could make a substantial profit by charging users to access certain websites or by charging extra for "fast lanes" that allow internet companies willing to pay to bypass slower bandwidth.

What could happen if ISPs got their way?

The general fear from advocates of net neutrality is that ISPs could fracture the web into two different internets — one faster version for the major companies who could afford to pay fast lane fees, and slower version for everyone else. Proponents additionally argue that rolling back net neutrality could lead to an increase in internet bills for everyday web users and dent the innovation that can sprout from an open, available web — smaller startups with new ideas might not be able to afford the ISP fees.

But those who support the FCC's rollbacks believe that an excess of data from companies like Netflix and YouTube are slowing down the overall functionality of the internet. Charging fees to the biggest bandwidth-users could lead to a more efficient and swift connection. The end of net neutrality could also halt the illegal downloading of content and media on sites like BitTorrent.

The net neutrality debate has been ongoing since at least 2010 — why is it back in the spotlight?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointee of President Donald Trump, is actively seeking to repeal the current rules in place that protect net neutrality. In May, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality guidelines. The decision will require another vote later this year, but the general consensus is that the future of net neutrality is not looking good — at all. In response, those aforementioned activist groups and internet companies teamed up to organize an "Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality" on Wednesday.

So who is participating in that day of action?

To name a few: Google, Facebook, the American Civil Liberties Union, Reddit, Amazon, Airbnb, Twitter, Mozilla, Netflix, Vimeo, Spotify, Dropbox, Expedia, a handful of Congress and Senator members, and many other people and groups.

Basically, any company that primarily conducts its business via the internet is likely going to support net neutrality. Without it in place, they stand to get hit with fast lane fees and, if they can't afford to pay them, lose customers due to reduced bandwidth speeds.

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