Net neutrality is in the news again, but if you’re like most people, you aren’t even totally sure what it is. With a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision on Net neutrality poised to change the face of the Internet, it’s worth addressing what exactly Net neutrality is and what it means to the average Internet user.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the proposition that all data traveling through the Internet should be treated equally by all Internet service providers. This means that no company should be allowed to pay for premium access, nor should any company be penalized for failing to pay for premium access.
This principle was enshrined in the early days of the Internet when massive bandwidth hogs like Netflix or Hulu didn’t even exist, and that’s why some Internet service providers want to change the rules. For example, some Internet service providers might want the ability to slow downloading times for content providers that are also a competitor of theirs. Still, Net neutrality has remained the unofficial law of the land even in an era when two services (Netflix and YouTube) account for nearly half of all Internet traffic.
So What’s Changed?
Three years ago, Verizon Communications filed a suit against the Federal Communications Commission regarding a 2010 ruling that required broadband services to uphold Net neutrality. Verizon argued that the FCC had no authority to regulate Internet traffic in this way. The recent federal court ruling found that the FCC does have the authority to regulate Internet traffic, but that the FCC based its ruling on a law that doesn’t apply to broadband providers. Last month the FCC announced it will not appeal the case. Instead, it plans to create a new set of Net neutrality rules.
What does this mean for you? Perhaps nothing — at least in the short term. You can continue to use the Internet as you always have and anticipate that your content will be served up by your ISP without discrimination. But in the long term, the impact is unclear. In theory, broadband providers could start charging heavy bandwidth users like Google or Netflix to use their services. It also means that you might be able to buy premium Internet access that delivers content from these providers faster, with less buffering — but this is the access you currently have without paying extra.
For now, it’s a game of wait and see. Or, if you feel passionately about preserving Net neutrality, you can find ways to take action through the Save the Internet initiative spearheaded by Freepress.net.
What is your thought?