What’s the Deal with Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is in the news again. If you’re not sure what it is, here’s a brief explanation and some links where you can learn more.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), following public pressure, reclassified broadband providers as common carriers of a public utility—this move prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or charging more for access to certain websites, ensuring that all data is treated equally. Within the past few weeks, the FCC, under the leadership of its new director Ajit Pai, has made motions to review and dismantle that 2015 ruling.

John Oliver tackles the topic in his usual witty, exasperated style. Check it out here.

How Does it Affect Me?

The impact of reversing the 2015 ruling on net neutrality depends on whom you ask. Opponents of net neutrality, including FCC director Pai, state that the market will be able to keep the net neutral—given the choice*, it seems reasonable that consumers would avoid the providers that block or limit access to specific sites. Proponents of net neutrality warn that without regulation, internet service providers could charge customers more to access bandwidth-intensive sites, such as Netflix or YouTube, or block access to websites based on content or site of origin**.

In the short term, it’s reasonable to expect that removing the 2015 regulations would bring us back to the state of the internet three years ago.

*It’s worth mentioning, however, that due to municipal contracts and mergers between companies, many Americans have little choice in available ISPs. The “invisible hand of the market” only works for free markets, not regional monopolies.

**It may sound far-fetched to say that an ISP would actively restrict access to, say, social movements, but such tactics have been used against illegal file-sharing sites, and internationally, we’ve seen governments ban access to entire swathes of the internet. There’s also a financial incentive for some ISPs that are also content providers, to make competitor’s content less accessible or reliable.

What Can I Do?

Whether you support or oppose regulations to protect net neutrality, there are multiple ways to make your voice heard. You can submit a public comment to the FCC with your thoughts on net neutrality via the FCC website (https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/filings?proceedings_name=17-108&sort=date_disseminated,DESC). In the past month, the FCC has already received more than 2.5 million public comments on this issue.

If you’re leaning towards supporting net neutrality, DearFCC.org (https://dearfcc.org/) is a page managed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) and includes a template for submitting comments to the FCC.

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