Understanding Net Neutrality

“Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight.”–Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a principle that specifies that Internet service providers (ISPs) should only be allowed to move data, meaning they should treat all data that’s on the Internet equally.

As such, ISPs, like AT&T and Verizon, wouldn’t be permitted to charge different fees that give certain data higher priority relative to other traffic.

Net neutrality allows Internet users to use any site, application, equipment, content or mode of communications on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the ISP.

This is how phone lines currently work.

Why is net neutrality important?

Generally speaking, it describes how the information super highway currently functions.

Net neutrality acts as the great equalizer, and is the founding principle that the Internet has been built on.

It’s what has shaped the Internet. If net neutrality becomes a thing of the past, the Internet will fundamentally change.


Argument for net neutrality

Those that believe that net neutrality should be maintained, argue that net neutrality ensures users have equal access to the Internet despite their size.

If net neutrality isn’t upheld, ISPs have the power to select what content gets seen first.

It’s a two-tiered system that prevents access to high-speed, prime real estate to those who can’t pay.

Net neutrality drives creativity, economic innovation, and freedom of speech. Without net neutrality, users no longer control what’s on the Internet; that’s left to ISPs and their wealthy customers to decide.

Power to dictate what’s seen on the Internet, and what applications will be successful, is put in the hands of the few.

Argument against net neutrality

Critics of net neutrality argue that they should be permitted to make decisions that dictate the nature of Internet traffic, in part, because certain types of data discrimination maintain quality.

Companies like Google have high bandwidth requirements. ISPs argue that consumers should be billed for being connected to high bandwidth services, as it costs ISPs more to provide access to them.

Those against net neutrality also argue that ISPs are entitled to a portion of what companies, particularly those that consume large quantities of bandwidth, are making.

They also believe that traffic needs to be prioritized. For example, high-speed lanes should give key services, such as banking, more priority over playing certain YouTube videos.

What do the courts say?

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US put a new set of rules in place to maintain net neutrality.

In 2011, ISPs disagreed with the rules and challenged them court. On January 14, 2014, a federal appeals court determined the FCC rules were invalid.

The judgment was a blow against net neutrality. The judge’s reasoning was that consumers have the ability to go to another provider that doesn’t artificially change access speeds to information based on who is paying them.

The counter-argument is that in many places there are few choices for Internet providers already, and there may not be a choice for those people.

The issue continues to be widely debated, and is increasing in intensity as these recent rulings may mean we are about to lose net neutrality and the Internet as we know it.

Photo Source: Flickr & Flickr (newspaper)

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