Net Neutrality: What you Need to Know

The FCC’s recent rolling back of their 2015 reclassification of the internet broadband access as a telecommunications service under Title II has sparked outrage and outright confusion.  Proponents of net neutrality say that without it, ISPs can further monopolize access and this will end the internet as we know it.  Opponents of net neutrality claim that the internet was fine before net neutrality.  In the back and forth, many things get lost in translation and both sides use terminology differently than one another.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the idea or view that the internet should be a free and neutral playing field.  Access should not favor one content provider or platform over another.  In other words, an internet service provider should not be able to show favoritism to Bing over Google, or YouTube over Vimeo.  Nor should it favor one device over another (for example, your Android phone over your iPad).

This concept has become especially important over recent years, as streaming and broadband access have become commonplace, and companies have become involved in more than one vertical within the internet (for example, Verizon owning Yahoo! who in turn competed with Google, to who Verizon is expected to allow equitable access).  It’s also become important as the internet has moved from an obscure and “nerdy” hobby to a ubiquitous resource that’s integral to everyday life in the United States, and the industrialized world in general.

Is Net Neutrality new?

The internet has operated under the philosophy of net neutrality over the last two decades.  This has been the guiding principle since day one.  What has changed is the nature of the internet, and as such, ISPs have begun to display signs of favoritism with content providers.  Comcast has been caught throttling Netflix.  AT&T has been caught preventing access to Facetime.  Verizon is already rolling out its own streaming service that will compete with Netflix and Hulu.  ISPs now have the motivation to control access, and have already displayed signs of intending to do so.

Does Net Neutrality Stifle Innovation?

One of the biggest criticisms of net neutrality is that it stifles innovation.  However, the opposite is true.  Small companies and entrepreneurs have been able to build mega corporations from their dorm room because they had equal access to the internet as existing heavyweights.  Imagine if in 2006, MySpace was able to pay Comcast for sole social media access, in turn blocking access to Facebook.  Imagine if any corporate media heavyweight was able to pay Spectrum for sole “new” access, and thereby block user access to independent internet news websites.  This “cable-fication” is what the internet could very well become without strong net neutrality guarantees.

Corporate Takeover of the Internet

Not surprisingly, the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai is a former Verizon legal counsel.  He has made numerous media appearances defending his position but has done little to address actual criticisms of the FCC decision.  Far from draining the swamp, it would appear that the swamp is beginning to flood America.

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