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What is Net Neutrality, Anyway?

Fri, Jan 17th 2014 10:00 am

Use of the Internet has become so common, that we as a society have started to take many things for granted. We assume that because we have the technology, we'll be able to access any website we want, whenever we want to go there. We've grown accustomed to a plugged-in lifestyle that requires the internet in order to function, all of which has been made possible because of Network Neutrality.

What is Net Neutrality?

Network Neutrality is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet; That users should be able to access any web content or applications they choose, without restrictions, censorship, or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider (ISP) or government.This principle led to a set of rules the Federal Communications Commission approved in 2010 that guarantee a level playing field for all websites and Internet technologies. But all of that is about to change.

After massive lobbying efforts a federal appeals court recently determined that the FCC doesn't have the right to enforce those rules. The problem is that, unlike telephone service or electricity, the Internet isn't considered to be an FCC regulated utility under current law.

Why the court ruling is bad for users.

Due to the ruling, your ISP can now censor, throttle, and outright block specific content however they please. Essentially, they can pick and choose who gets the best service based on how advantageous it is for them instead of letting us consume as little or as much as we want at a common price. CNN.com even speculated about large companies paying premiums for high-speed access while the masses deal with slower speeds.

Aside from increased rates and possible fees, the lack of a free and open web stifles business and innovation. Internet Service Providers will control barriers to entry for web-based businesses and many existing companies may find themselves at the mercy of their ISPs. A common concern is that telecomms like Verizon, Time Warner or AT&T, who have oligopoly like control over broadcast and Internet service markets, will be able to punish online businesses like Netflix for their success. Without Net Neutrality they can essentially target and tax a company like Netflix for the bandwidth they use while serving the public streaming video simply because that service is a direct threat to cable television revenue. Whatever the excuse, this is not justifiable. In addition, it's not far-fetched to assume this increased overhead will inevitably trickle down to you the consumer.

How it will affect your business.

The good news is that you likely won't see an immediate impact on the quality of your internet service unless you do a lot of video streaming or high bandwidth activities. For now, that is. 

The FCC has suggested it will appeal the ruling. You can help urge them to do so by signing the petitions at Fight for the Future and FreePress.