Net neutrality has been an ongoing topic of debate since the earliest days of the internet, but it’s become an even more hotly debated issue in recent years. But what exactly is neutrality, and why should you care about whether or not the internet remains a neutral place or not?
What is It?
First, a net neutrality definition. Neutrality is the idea that each and every user on the internet has equal rights to access and use services from any website on the internet. Your internet service provider, which provides and controls your device’s access to the internet, cannot block or impede the services, applications or websites you use on the web.
It also prevents broadband internet providers from playing favorites—that is, creating “fast lanes” that force content-providing companies like Hulu or Netflix from having to pay additional fees to allow their customers to access their content at full speed. Companies that pay these fees to internet service providers would have preferential treatment and full broadband speeds while companies who don’t pay the fees would have their customers’ internet speeds limited, making streaming content much slower as a penalty.
What Would Happen if Net Neutrality Disappeared?
If neutrality were to disappear completely, the internet would be the wild west—companies like Comcast could decide to block websites like Netflix altogether unless Netflix paid licensing fees to Comcast. What this means, in a nutshell, is that your internet service provider would be able to block or hinder you (through slower speeds) from accessing any website on the internet, even lawful websites, simply because those sites have not paid up.
This “pay to play” system is a toxic one, and would irreparably damage the freedom of information that the internet currently provides.
Why Should you Care About Net Neutrality?
Here are a few reasons why you should care about net neutrality:
- It doesn’t matter whether you use a tablet, a cell phone, a laptop or computer to access the internet—if you use the web, web neutrality will impact you, and in a big way.
- If broadband providers have their way, they will be able to demand a “toll” from websites that you access every day. Let’s use Netflix as an example. If YouTube is forced to pay a toll to Verizon, Comcast, and other broadband providers, YouTube will then have to raise its subscription rates and increase advertisements, and the additional cost will be passed onto you.
- These broadband companies will get monthly fees from you, and in addition, they will then charge fees to websites on the other end. Basically, they’re double-dipping, and the one who loses is ultimately you, the internet user.
- I’ve mentioned large companies like Netflix and Hulu and YouTube, but what about smaller websites? If your favorite blog or website is forced to pay fees to Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other ISPs, you will begin to see these sites disappear for lack of funds. They will be, essentially, priced out of the market. Keeping these sites around is one of the major benefits of net neutrality.
- Freedom of speech may come under fire. What if I had a blog and said: “I hate AT&T and Comcast, they are terrible companies.” There would be nothing to stop those companies from blacklisting my blog and preventing their customers from accessing it, and I would have no recourse. The internet becomes North Korea, essentially, where freedom no longer exists and is replaced with a group of corporate dictatorships.
- Without net neutrality, prepare yourself for a world in which Google searches bring up a list of websites that you may or may not be able to access, depending on your broadband provider. Click on the top search result and you’ll see “this website blocked by Comcast” because they haven’t paid Comcast’s fee. Doesn’t seem appealing, does it?
The reason web neutrality is under fire in the first place? It isn’t so much about censorship as it is about money. For years, customers had to pay for channels they did not want, allowing television stations to provide garbage to its customers.
Now, with people “cutting the cord” and abandoning cable television in droves, these companies are hemorrhaging subscribers—the old business model is broken, and they’re looking to pick up the slack through the elimination of neutrality.
There are pros and cons of net neutrality, but if you use the internet on any device, you should take a great interest in net neutrality.