By Patrick May
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) So what is net neutrality? In a nutshell, it’s the sacred principle that all online traffic should be treated equally.
The big news on the Internet front Tuesday, of course, was that the FCC unveiled a plan to kill net neutrality.
We’re here to refresh your memory on the burning question behind today’s big news: What exactly is net neutrality and why should you care?
In a nutshell, it’s the sacred principle that all online traffic should be treated equally. For example, rules passed under the Obama Administration ensured that there would be no “fast and slow lanes” on the Internet set up by service providers like AT&T and Verizon, thus allowing all users equal access to content.
But that was then, and this is Trump.
Killing net neutrality is a big win for cable and internet providers who could soon charge you more for how fast you want that Beavis and Butt-Head episode streamed on your iPhone. (Their argument being, hey, it costs us more to give it to you fast.) But the move has been roundly criticized by many Silicon Valley tech companies and advocates for online democracy.
So now that we know how people feel about the principle, let’s explore what exactly net neutrality means. Here’s how some experts are defining it:
From USA Today:
“Net neutrality, or open Internet, is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis, without favoring some sources or blocking others.”
“Translated into non-lawyers language it means that your internet connection should treat all websites and services the same — e.g. you should not be charged more for accessing your email and less for Facebook and if you refuse to pay more to access your email, such access should not be throttled or blocked just based on such different treatment. Same applies to the company providing such service — they should not be charged more for the provision of access to their services and probably blocked or slowed down.”
From Save The Internet:
“Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked.”
From Public Knowledge:
It’s the idea that “the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet.”
From the ACLU:
The Internet should be “a place where you can always access any lawful content you want, and where the folks delivering that content can’t play favorites because they disagree with the message being delivered or want to charge more money for faster delivery.”
From the Electronic Freedom Foundation:
“It’s a principle that’s faced many threats over the years, such as ISPs forging packets to tamper with certain kinds of traffic or slowing down or even outright blocking protocols or applications.”
From the (pre-Trump) FCC:
“Sometimes referred to as “net neutrality,” “Internet freedom” or the “open Internet,” these rules protect your ability to go where you want when you want online. Broadband service providers cannot block or deliberately slow speeds for internet services or apps, favor some internet traffic in exchange for consideration, or engage in other practices that harm internet openness.”
So why would anyone want to get rid of something that sounds so good?
At its core, this is an argument about whether government regulation helps or hurts consumers and free enterprise. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who issued the administration’s plan today. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
Finally, from a collection of opinions gathered by Marketplace, here are some smart folks comparing the principle of net neutrality to other things we might all understand a little better:
*Charles Duan, staff attorney at Public Knowledge: “A world without net neutrality would be like UPS delivering packages from Amazon faster than ones from Walmart. It would be like a freeway with a special lane for Hondas but not Toyotas. It would be like your mother serving Thanksgiving dinner faster to your brother than to you. It would be like a taxi service that picked up some passengers quicker than others and drove slower to some destinations than others.”
*Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future: “If a local mafia can show up at a small business and threaten to burn them down if they don’t pay protection money, that’s essentially an illegitimate tax on everyone. Net neutrality rules prevent big cable and telephone companies from engaging in a digital version of this type of extortion. It’s what stops internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T from threatening to make small businesses’ websites slow and unusable unless they pay special fees — or from shaking down internet users for more money to access the content we want. If you get rid of Title II — the legal framework for net neutrality — it would be a disaster for the economy and give a small group of powerful businesses an unprecedented control over everything we do on the internet.”
*Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University: “We all have different tastes: Things we adore — like fresh peaches — and things we find a bit more suspect — like boiled okra. There is only one thing that we all agree — we are a diverse nation with a diversity of differing likes and dislikes. So maybe you really love basil and tomatoes or maybe you’re a wild-flower kinda guy — either way, a gardener is a master of her domain! Your garden is yours to do with as you please — whether you want to plant okra or peaches. Network Neutrality is fundamentally about ensuring that you — and only you — get to decide what you want to hear, watch, play, and read. So next time some mega-corporation tries to tell you that their peach-okra pie is ‘simply delicious,’ remember: You know best what you like to eat.”