Net Neutrality Explained

It's OUR internet. You can still fight to keep it free.

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Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the FCC ruling on Dec. 14, 2017, and to inform readers how they can fight that ruling. 

Internet or 'Net' Neutrality, by definition, means that there are no restrictions of any kind on access to content on the Web, no restrictions on downloads or uploads, and no restrictions on communication methods (email, chat, IM, etc.)

It also means that access to the internet will not be blocked, slowed down, or sped up depending on where that access is based or who owns the access point(s).

In essence, the internet is open to everyone.

What Does an Open Internet Mean for The Average Web User?

When we get on the Web, we are able to access the entire Web: that means any website, any video, any download, any email. We use the Web to communicate with others, go to school, do our jobs, and connect with people all over the world. When net neutrality governs the Web, this access is granted without any restrictions whatsoever.

Why is Net Neutrality Important?

Growth: Net neutrality is the reason that the Web has grown at such a phenomenal rate from the time it was created in 1991 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (see also History of the World Wide Web).

Creativity: Creativity, innovation, and unbridled inventiveness have given us Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, I Can Has Cheezburger, torrents, Hulu, The Internet Movie Database, and much more.

Communication: Net neutrality has given us the ability to freely communicate with people on a personal basis: government leaders, business owners, celebrities, work colleagues, medical personnel, family, etc., without restrictions.

Strong net neutrality rules should be left in place to ensure all of these things exist and thrive. With Net Neutrality rules now approved for repeal by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), everyone that uses the internet is expected to lose these freedoms.

What Are "Internet Fast Lanes"? How Are They Related to Net Neutrality? 

"Internet fast lanes" are special deals and channels that would give some companies exceptional treatment as far as broadband access and internet traffic.

Many people believe that this would violate the concept of net neutrality. 

Internet fast lanes could cause issues because instead of Internet providers being required to provide the same service for all subscribers regardless of size/company/influence, they could be able to make deals with certain companies that would give them preferred access. This practice could potentially hamper growth, strengthen illegal monopolies, and cost the consumer. 

In addition, an open internet is essential for a continued free exchange of information – a bedrock concept that the World Wide Web was founded upon.

Is Net Neutrality Available Worldwide?

No. There are countries – now including the United States – whose governments want to or have restricted their citizens’ access to the Web for political reasons. Vimeo has a great video on this very topic that explains how limiting access to the internet can impact everyone in the world.

In the U.S., the 2015 FCC rules were intended to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favoring their own content. With the FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality on December 14, 2017, those practices will now be allowed as long as they are disclosed.

Is Net Neutrality in Danger?

Yes, as evidenced by the 2017 FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality regulations. There are many companies that have a vested interest in making sure that access to the Web is not freely available. These companies are already in charge of most of the Web’s infrastructure, and they see potential profit in making the Web “pay for play”. 

This could result in restrictions on what Web users are able to search for, download, or read. Some people in the United States are even afraid that changes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could result in a negative net neutrality ruling.

You Can Still Fight For Your Rights

At Fight for the Future's Battle for Net Neutrality site, you still can send a letter directly to FCC and Congress and let them know how you feel. You can still get Congress to stop the removal of Net Neutrality – by helping to pass a "Resolution of Disapproval" to overturn the FCC vote. Visit the Battle site to learn more.

You can also file a document into the official FCC proceeding to let officials know whether or not you want Net Neutrality regulations to change or remain in place. It's a super wonky form with a couple of weird things (hey, this is the government!) so follow these instructions carefully:

  1. Visit ECFS Express at the FCC website.
  2. Type 17-108 in the Proceeding(s) box. Press Enter to turn the number to a yellow/orange box.
  3. Type your first name and last name in the Name(s) of Filer(s) box. Press Enter to turn your name into a yellow/orange box.
  4. Fill in the rest of the form as you would normally fill in an internet form. 
  5. Check the Email Confirmation box.
  6. Tap or click the Continue to review screen button.
  7. On the next page, tap or click the Submit button.

That's it! You've made your feelings known.

What Could Happen If Net Neutrality Is Restricted or Abolished?

Net neutrality is the foundation of the freedom that we enjoy on the Web. Losing that freedom could result in consequences such as restricted access to websites and diminished download rights, as well as controlled creativity and corporate-governed services. Some people call that scenario the 'end of the internet.'

The Bottom Line: Net Neutrality is Important To All of Us

Net neutrality in the context of the Web is somewhat new, but the concept of neutral, publicly accessible information and transfer of that information has been around since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Basic public infrastructure, such as subways, buses, telephone companies, etc., are not allowed to discriminate, restrict, or differentiate common access, and this is the core concept behind net neutrality as well.

For those of us who appreciate the Web, and want to preserve the freedom that this amazing invention has given us to exchange information, net neutrality is a core concept that we must work to maintain. 

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