A Popular Buzzword, What Is Net Neutrality

Yesterday, Wednesday, July 12th, tech companies across the United States united in their stand to protect net neutrality.  Advocacy groups and major companies all rallied in protest against the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to get rid of net neutrality.  Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook were just a few of the major tech companies that ran ads, alerted users of the proposed changes, or took action to stop the FCC’s efforts.  Though Wednesday was dedicated to net neutrality, net neutrality has always been a popular buzzword.  The word itself dates back more than ten years but the concept goes beyond that.  Here’s a short and sweet explanation of net neutrality.

It might seem too good to be true but you can actually just look at the word and break down both Net and Neutrality to understand what it means.  Net refers to the internet while Neutrality refers to, well, being neutral.  Net neutrality is all about the internet being a free and neutral environment.  Since its creation, that’s what the internet has always been, free and neutral.  When the internet became a staple in consumer households and later on our cell phones, the federal government actually stepped in and defined what net neutrality met.  Under the Obama Administration in 2010, net neutrality became policy and it appeared that the internet would remain a neutral environment in which data is shared and communication made.

Net neutrality doesn’t face much opposition on the consumer side.  Keeping the internet a neutral and free place is fantastic consumers.  Here’s why.

A perfect counterexample to net neutrality is cable TV or flying first class on an airline.  Regarding cable TV, TV isn’t neutral.  Sure everyone in the US has access to basic local affiliates, however, there are better and more attractive options.  That’s why cable and satellite providers created TV packages.  There are usually four or five packages from which consumers can choose.  Based on how important TV is to the consumer, the consumer will pick the package that best fits their needs.  Compare cable TV to the internet, the internet is like cable TV except they’re aren’t any packages.  There are different ways in which you can access the internet and speeds vary but once you’re connected, all content is available to you.

Unless you’re on a data restricted cell phone plan, data isn’t typically restricted.  Moreso, internet service providers (ISPs) can’t limit data on particular sites.  That means everyone using the internet can access any site and won’t have to worry about being charged a “premium site” fee.  The internet is available to almost everyone and once you’re on, you can do almost anything worry free.  However, the Trump Administration wants to change that.

Motivated by the idea of “conservative ideals and economics”, the new FCC director hopes that net neutrality will be a thing of the past.  The new FCC director, Ajit V. Pai, wants the internet to be a place of fees and charges.  Eliminating net neutrality would allow ISPs to charge more for accessing certain sites or using data on one site versus another site.  It creates a cable TV situation where certain sites are then packaged and consumers can be charged for those packaged sites.  It can also allow ISPs to restrict access to competitor’s sites and sites that use more data.

Essentially, eliminating net neutrality makes the internet just another online marketplace that isn’t free to move about.  If net neutrality is eliminated, you could actually have to pay a premium to use Google over Bing.