Tuesday 31 March, 2015
Net neutrality is a very simple issue that’s been muddled by misunderstandings and misinformation, but it’s in the news right now so it behooves you to know what it’s all about.
The basic idea is that the net should be neutral, meaning that governments and internet service providers should treat all online data equally. This means there is no fast track for big corporations who pay extra and no slowing down of data for companies that don’t, and no censorship as long as the content is legal.
The whole idea is to keep access to the internet free and equal. The internet is widely recognized as a major driver of innovation in business, and it will surely play an even more important role in the future. It plays a tremendous role in all of our lives as well, including everything from enjoying content we love to keeping in touch with friends and family. The idea of net neutrality is to keep it out of any one party’s control.
Net neutrality was a given until it became a big issue in May, 2014, when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a plan that would have given companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast the right to discriminate online and create pay-to-play fast lanes. The sites of a company that paid a provider would load faster for users. This led to a huge uproar and for the first time, net neutrality became an issue.
Before 2014, companies tampering with internet access hadn’t been much of a problem. In small, isolated cases where it happened, companies were sued for doing it. But now, who controls access to what has become a major issue.
In February 2015, the FCC set new rules for net neutrality and published these rules a few weeks later. The gist of the regulations is that companies can’t allow paid prioritization, can’t ban lawful content, and can’t “throttle,” or degrade access to certain content through means like slowing down internet connections, which is effectively the same as blocking.
Net Freedom or Big Brother?
Ironically, politicians on big corporations’ payrolls say that net neutrality is over-regulation that does the opposite of what it purports and actually restricts online freedom. They try to paint the FCC as “big government” taking control and restricting what the people can do online. They ignore that the only “people” being restricted are huge corporations that have a great deal of capital more than your casual internet user.
However, there is a great deal of debate on whether the February 2015 changes are truly good for net neutrality or not, regardless of what they’re called. This is surely not the end of the debate and there will likely be more arguments and legislation in the future.
The whole point is that net neutrality means ensuring free and open access to content on the internet for all. This means no discriminating and no fast lanes for corporations with the money to influence service providers.