Most people would agree that the internet can, and sometimes is, be a force for good and has changed their lives for the better. From Youtube channels to tightly-knitted communities celebrating everything from photography to accounting (yes, they exist) and, of course, the joys of social media. One of the reasons why the internet is such a game changer and what makes it so great lies in the rules that govern it, the biggest of which is Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality’s rule is simply: all data is equal and will be treated as such.
Treating all data equally has enormous advantages for consumers and creators. If you are an enterprising person, you might decide to create something to benefit others or design something cool. Through hard work, dedication and a bit of programming, one person can create something that could be seen and viewed by hundreds, thousands, even millions of people tomorrow. Treating all data equally means that creators have an even playing field and can innovate new ideas and technologies that reach a wider audience than before.
There’s only one problem with Net Neutrality: the Internet Service Providers don’t like it and neither does newly appointed FCC commissioner Ajit Varadaraj Pai who has moved to repeal Net Neutrality by December. This is a serious issue as ISPs would become the most meddlesome middlemen in the history of meddlesome middlemen. In short, the freedom of the Internet is under attack!
Let’s starts with why Net Neutrality is good
Think of your internet connection as part of a road. Some roads are highways over which millions and millions of cars (data) flow through. You don’t have access to the big road, but you have a tiny road that filters information through. Net Neutrality ensures that your road cares not what passes over it. If you play games, use discussion forums or watch cat videos, your road will provide it all. You pay your ISP to maintain the road and keep the data flowing.
Net Neutrality ensures that no one website gets preference over the other. If you use Facebook and Twitter, you won’t get punished for using one exclusively over the other. You also don’t have to pay for using as a package deal.
Why ISPs hate it
Everyone wants a faster Internet but that would mean building more metaphorical roads which is very costly and time-consuming. This is why ISPs come into the picture and why they end up on television talking how Net Neutrality stifles innovation and how getting rid of it will allow them to build ‘superhighways’ and ‘fast lanes’ to get people more data. It sounds great but it comes with a caveat.
That caveat is that ISPs would also be able to put speed bumps on existing roads and charge you more for using their ‘fast lane’ which was essentially what you had before without paying a mint for it. ISPs would have to power to favor some data over others, which could mean favoring one video site over another. If your ISP prefers Netflix over Youtube, guess which site is going to suffer from stuttering videos?
If you hear an ISP talking about building ‘fast lanes’, what they mean is that they want people to pay more money to use something they already had access to. It’s like dimming people’s bulbs and then offering a monthly subscription for ‘brighter bulbs’, essentially charging you for electricity which you used as you wished before.
The Bigger Picture
The threat to Net Neutrality has much wider implications than simply favoring certain sites over others. It is one of the most important issues that the USA, along with other countries, face today. Net Neutrality means that the middlemen, the ISPs, can’t crush their competition the way John D. Rockafeller did with his oil company.
Take a quick look at some of the ISPs pushing for Net Neutrality to go: AT&T, Verizon, Charter Communications, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and so on. If you looking closely, they not only sell Internet but also cable television and phone subscriptions. In other words, they also sell things that the Internet has almost completely replaced. This means that getting rid of data equality will allow ISPs to narrow the pipe for their competitors until they either pay up, go out of business or both.
As you can imagine, this will hit smaller service providers the hardest of all and people in rural areas will be deeply affected if their local provider gets more expensive or ceases to be. Far from encouraging innovation and competition as they claim, ISPs know full well that with Net Neutrality gone, they can dominate the market at the expense of others. Even Pai, a former lawyer from Verizon, knows this.
What Can You Do?
As the American Revolution has taught us, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. If you value the creativity, the innovation and the online access to free speech that the Internet offers, then you need to play your part. There’s not much time to do so as the vote to repeal Net Neutrality takes place on December 14th and there’s still much to do.
The best thing you can do is contact your local representative and explain why Net Neutrality is important to you. Sites like BattleForTheNet will not only help you contact Congress but also provide a script so you can sound confident and contains useful information so you can understand the issue. ALCU is also taking up the fight, urging people to call or even visit their local representative.
The Internet must be allowed to treat data equally. As technology advances and the world becomes more connected than ever, it is especially vital to call out the lies of ISPs who favor their profit margins over their customers.
Don’t let your freedom of choice be taken from you. Reject Pai’s rollback and take a stand to defend Net Neutrality!