What You Need to Know About Net Neutrality

The internet has irrevocably changed nearly every part of our lives. From the way we communicate to the way we do business, the instantaneous access to information and connection has made more possible than we could have imagined just twenty years ago. One of the best things about the internet is that it levels the playing field. No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you have, you can introduce a new idea on the internet as long as you have access to a computer or a mobile device.

With the concept of Net Neutrality introduced in 2003 and later voted on by the FCC in 2015, rules were put in place to keep that playing field level without any intervention by big businesses or broadband providers. That may all come to an end, though, if the Federal Communications Commission votes to dismantle Net Neutrality on December 14th. Here’s what you need to know about this historic issue.

What is Net Neutrality?

With Net Neutrality, we have free and easy access to whatever content we want to view or disseminate online (as long as it’s legal). No one, including service providers like Comcast and Verizon, can speed up or slow down any connection based on what is being viewed. They also cannot block access to a site because they don’t agree with what is being put on the site. Net Neutrality is our guarantee that we can communicate freely online and are not punished because our ideas and values may not fall in line with those in power.

Who Does Net Neutrality Affect?

Net Neutrality affects anyone who wants open communication on the internet. In other words, it affects us all. However, it has the most impact on marginalized communities who have a history of government and societal oppression and small businesses and entrepreneurs who don’t have the budgets to compete in other areas with big business.

If Net Neutrality is shot down, supportive communities for those who are oppressed could be shut down. Those who do not agree with leaders or politicians could be silenced. Small businesses with innovative ideas but lack of funds would not have the opportunity to garner online support and launch businesses that can potentially change lives. If Net Neutrality goes away, so does our internet freedom. Control would go back into the hands of corporations and politicians and much of what made the internet great would be a mere memory.

Without Net Neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the internet into fast and slow lanes. An ISP could slow down its competitors’ content or block political opinions it disagreed with. ISPs could charge extra fees to the few content companies that could afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service. This would destroy the open internet.

Why Is It in Danger?

The new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, insists that the organization made a mistake when it implemented Net Neutrality in 2015. He argues that government regulation of the internet was harming the economic and social benefit of the internet and that removing these regulations would allow service providers to engage in healthy competition. Most people, however, don’t agree. They think that dismantling Net Neutrality will instead lead to the nation’s largest and most powerful broadband providers introducing a number of anti-consumer acts. It would also put power in the hands of those who can pay the biggest bucks for it—effectively leaving those who need the internet the most at a huge disadvantage.

An open internet that allows access to all—no matter what their beliefs or bank accounts may look like—could be lost if Net Neutrality is destroyed. When companies and governments start calling the shots regarding content, the end user ultimately loses out.