In recent weeks the issue of net neutrality has become headline news here at NMR. For the most part, we’ve restricted our coverage to commenting on the various online video and new media companies that have weighed in on the issue. However, net neutrality is a complicated issue that affects all of us who use the internet in our daily lives. Everyone from massive global companies like Netflix and YouTube to your favorite content creators, and even ourselves, needs to care about this issue. So here are the answers to your eight most important questions about net neutrality.
1. What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet is equal, and should be treated equally by your internet service provider. That’s basically how the internet works now. You can see what you want, when you want, regardless of what it is. Activists who believe in net neutrality think that this is what makes the internet great and fair. Big companies can’t pay an internet service provider to make it easier for you to see their content over anyone else’s. Also, internet service providers can’t keep you from seeing the content you want or force you to pay extra for the privilege. That would put a lot of small companies out of business and make it very hard for a start-up, even one with a great idea, to compete with an established company with millions of dollars in the bank.
2. Why are we talking about this now?
Net Neutrality has been a hot topic for a while, but we’ve heard a lot more about it in recent weeks because there’s a deadline coming up. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the independent organization that advises the government about issues related to communications, has put together a series of recommendations for changes to how we regulate the internet. One of these recommendations is that the government do away with net neutrality and allow internet service providers to set up “fast lanes.” A fast lane is just what it sounds like: a faster track for content from companies that can afford to pay for it. That means that your favorite website (NMR obviously) will load a lot slower, or not at all, unless they pay the ISPs for access to a fast lane. Those new proposed rules are open for comment by the public until Friday, July 17. Activists and internet companies are trying to get the word out so that more people will comment in favor of protecting net neutrality.
3. What would happen without net neutrality?
No one is totally sure. The ISPs have promised that they won’t abuse their new power. They say that it’s only fair to let them charge more for delivering different types of content. A lot of people suspect that the internet would start to look a lot more like cable TV — providers could offer you different internet packages. The more expensive packages would include the content you really want like Netflix, YouTube and Wikipedia. If you think this sounds alright, think about the last time you were happy with your cable bill.
4. Why is losing net neutrality bad for people?
Without net neutrality we’ll not only end up paying a lot more money, but we’ll also lose a lot of our choices. ISPs say that its fair for them to charge more for the content you want because that’s how supply and demand should work, but ISPs aren’t really selling you content, they’re selling you data. That’s like the electric company saying that it takes the same amount of energy to power your light bulbs or your blender, but you have to pay more money for the electric going into your light bulbs because you need it more. It also means that ISPs get to decide what kind of content you get to see, and they could discriminate against content they didn’t like. For example, Comcast is an ISP, one of the largest in fact. Yesterday, a viral story broke about a Comcast employee making it impossible for a customer to cancel his service. There was an audio clip and it was embarrassing for Comcast. In a world without net neutrality, Comcast could punish the sites that ran that story by slowing down their download speeds or raising the cost of their fast lane access.
5. Why is it bad for big companies?
In a lot of ways, ending net neutrality could be good news for big established companies who can afford to pay for fast lanes to access their consumers. Still many of those companies have come out in favor of net neutrality because they realize that without it, they too will be at the mercy of the ISPs. Internet service providers get to win either way. Either they make their consumers pay top-tier prices to reach their desired sites, or they can force those same top-tier web companies to pay them for the privilege of being accessible to more people.
6. Why is it bad for small companies?
YouTube and Netflix aren’t the only businesses that have come out in support of net neutrality. Smaller companies, like Vimeo, and dozens of start-ups, have also expressed concern. Without net neutrality the internet isn’t democratic anymore. A small start-up with a great idea would still have to pay ISPs for access to customers and faster download speeds. That would make it difficult for new companies to challenge already established brands. Without start-ups to challenge — and sometimes replace — the companies that we know, innovation stops and the internet is no longer a vibrant, exciting place for new ideas. If we hadn’t had a neutral net 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have YouTube today. If we get rid of net neutrality now, we’re giving up on something even better tomorrow.
7. Do ISPs Have a point?
Yes and no. Broadband companies correctly claim that they are the ones responsible for building and maintaining networks and that they deserve to be paid. The problem is that they are already paid. Internet service providers are among the most profitable corporations in the world and they make millions, if not billions of dollars, delivering a vital and important service. They want to make even more money because that’s what corporations do. Corporations aren’t required to think about what’s good for the public, or for innovation, or the future. Their only purpose is to make more money, and so it’s up to us, through regulation, to keep them in check.
8. What can you do?
The most important thing you can do is share your opinion. The FCC will send its recommendations to Congress. Many activists worry that Congress doesn’t know or understand enough about the internet to make an informed choice. The ISPs have hired lobbyists to make their case for them and have spent a lot of money making sure that Congress hears their side of the story. The only way to make them understand how important this issue is to people who aren’t massive multinational corporations is by speaking up in favor of net neutrality. The FCC has extended the comment deadline through Friday. Sites like DearFCC.Org and BattleForTheNet.Com can help you to phrase and submit your comments before the deadline.
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