What Is Net Neutrality? And Why Is Needed?
In its purest form, net neutrality is all data being treated equally by ISPs, regardless of who sends it or who they send it to. This practice is a major part of what makes the internet so powerful, unique, and liberating. It has allowed normal individuals running a website to be capable of competing on equal footing with websites run by thousands of people. Under net neutrality, no website is given an inherent advantage compared to others simply because its owners have money or are part of an ISP.
Without net neutrality, ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast could choose to throttle certain websites, types of bandwidth, and anything they dislike (like competitors to cable). In fact, Comcast already did this prominently in the past by throttling peer-to-peer connections. Additionally, Comcast has already throttled Netflix in the past until they agreed to pay Comcast directly. Time Warner Cable is also getting sued by Netflix and Riot Games as a result of accused “fraudulent and deceptive practices.” Such a market essentially allows ISPs to pick and choose winners and losers at whim. This is especially dangerous when considering the fact that ISPs could very easily set up a competitor to a website – like Netflix – and then throttle any competing websites in order to give the ISP run website an unfair advantage. Additionally, ISPs could force websites to pay to be in the “normal lane” – read: not throttled lane – in order to extort more money from them. Finally, ISPs can go even farther and outright block some content. Essentially, without net neutrality, ISPs hold unreasonable power to hinder the growth and fairness of the internet, along with even outright restrict some types of traffic.
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, believes that this is OK, since consumers can simply choose an ISP that respects net neutrality if they care about net neutrality. This could work fairly well if there were actually competition for ISPs, but that is far from reality. In many parts of America, there is one, maybe two, ISPs to choose from. This essentially means the ISPs have little to no competition and can limit consumer options and freedom. This is sometimes due to regulations that limit providers, but is also often due to the fact that starting an ISP is capital – and paperwork – intensive (even Google is having some trouble). Since there is little competition for ISPs, they act more like monopolies than truly competitive markets so the concept of free market competition protecting net neutrality if flawed from the start.
Outside of the FCC, 9 senators have introduced S.993 that aims to achieve the same thing as the Restoring Internet Freedom Act bill did last year: eliminating net neutrality and removing the FCC’s jurisdiction over ISPs as a telecommunications service.
What You Can Do
There a few easy actions that you can take in order to inform the FCC and your representatives of how you feel.
Contact the FCC via the web
Fill out the form (for proceedings use type “17-108” and choose “17-108 | Restoring Internet Freedom”)
Call your senators and congressman/congresswoman
To find contact info/who your house representative is, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and type in your zipcode
To find contact info/who are your representatives go to https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm and select your state
Call, email, fax, or mail your representatives and senators your thoughts (preferably in a concise manner)
Support advocacy and civil rights groups such as the EFF and ACLU
In addition to this, the standard forms of activism such as tweeting, protesting, etc. apply, but contacting the FCC and your representatives is an easy, quick, and effective way to show your opposition to eliminating net neutrality whether it be through legislation or FCC rules.
Whether these attacks on net neutrality are born out of malice or ignorance, we as internet users must band together and fight to protect net neutrality and ensure that the internet remains the place of fairness, innovation, randomness, freedom, and opportunity that it has been.
Editorial: Michael Kerns