Net neutrality means that all internet service providers must treat all websites and services with the same priority level, free from arbitrary restrictions. All online content is consumable in a truly neutral environment, there are no limitations on what websites you can read, what videos you can watch, or what companies you can get information on. Some of the large providers such as Comcast and AT&T are working to get rid of net neutrality, a move that could be devastating to the internet and reverse decades of online small business growth for the benefit of only a few large businesses.
How Net Neutrality Works
In today’s online environment, any user is completely free to consume whatever content they choose. If you want to purchase a new product or service you can browse any company’s website and check out their offerings and customer reviews. Maybe you want to watch how-to videos on Youtube or check the news on your favorite new site. Right now you are free to do just that on your computer or smartphone from anywhere in the world. This freedom of information exchange is the very reason the internet exists, and limiting it would greatly reduce competition in favor of larger companies that can afford to enter business relationships with internet service providers.
What is Happening Now?
The Federal Communication Commission, or (FCC), and several popular internet service providers are mired in talks about changing or eliminating net neutrality. ISPs have taken actions in the past to block customers from doing things the ISP doesn’t like over there networks, such as making telephone calls or accessing certain information, and until now the FCC has stepped in and placed sanctions on these ISPs.
Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals struck down the FCC’s network neutrality rule, meaning your internet service provider is free to restrict your access to sites and information it doesn’t like. Two rules were removed via this decision: a rule against blocking websites, and a rule against discrimination against websites.
This move will greatly eliminate freedom of expression on the internet, something which has fostered decades of growth. Imagine an internet where sites like Facebook, Google, or YouTube were blocked by major ISPs. Would they exist now? Maybe, but they would have had nowhere near the positive impact on society that they have today.
Why is This Important?
There are many reasons why net neutrality is an important concept, some of the most important being:
- Greater competition: When data is freely available to everyone and unrestricted, small and large companies alike can reach potential customers effectively.
- Freedom of speech: Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights a society can have, and net neutrality helps to promote this.
- Increased innovation: Unrestricted sharing of ideas leads to greater innovation
- Truthful information: Restricting the sources and types of information available greatly decreases the trustworthiness of this information. After all, if there can be no fact checking, why bother to represent facts and honesty?
Without net neutrality control over what types of information you can get, what sources you have access to, and what activities you can perform on the internet is handed over to your internet service providers. While it’s nice to think your ISP has your best interests in mind, like any business ISPs are free to enter into contracts and agreements that dictate what companies products you can find online.
Net neutrality must be maintained if society as a whole wants to enjoy increased innovations, business competition, and general availability of information.
How Can You Help?
If you have read this far it stands to reason that you are less than excited about the prospect of a restricted internet. Luckily, there are still a few things you can do to help prevent it from happening:
- Submit a informal complaint: The FCC allows anyone to submit and informal complaint online, right now. There is no specific category for net neutrality, but if enough complaints are submitted, perhaps the FCC will take notice.
- Submit a formal complaint: This option costs money ($200), and can only be submitted by businesses or groups. A lawyer is recommended, so tack that expense onto the $200 filing fee. Ultimately, an informal complaint may be better.
- Contact your ISP: You should inform your ISP how you feel about net neutrality. If internet service providers think there is a real possibility they will lose customers and revenue, there minds will change rapidly.
- Let others know: Letting others know what is happening and what they can do to help is the best method available when it comes to stopping net neutrality from being eliminated. If enough people voice their opinions, ISPs will surely abandon this push.
All of these options can help, but informing others is the best and easiest method. Let your providers and the FCC know how you feel, and if enough subscribers voice their opinions they will have to be heard.
While there are some cases that access needs to be restricted, such as illegal or malicious content and service providers, for the most part internet access needs to remain open. ISPs argue that anything affecting ‘Quality of Service’ (QoS) should be regulated, there is no standard definition of QoS, allowing anything to be blocked or degraded. Without restrictions, QoS based service disruptions could affect your ability to use certain online services and applications, purchase certain products, or even make it impossible for you to view content from any business who is not willing to pay fees to your ISP.
Net neutrality is very important to business competition, freedom of speech, innovation, and information availability. It is unethical to limit access to certain sources of information based upon selfish corporate decisions, and restrictions would crush innovation. Businesses and individuals alike would both be negatively impacted while a select few organizations would be able to exercise a near monopoly on your internet access. If you feel as strongly as I do about this, make sure your voice is heard today.