If you’ve been online at any point in the last week or so, you’ve likely heard or seen something about net neutrality.
A lot of activist groups and big internet companies (like Google, Facebook and Netflix) staged an online protest Wednesday to defend net neutrality from a rollback of regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Some sites displayed fake graphics on their homepages that said things like “blocked” or “upgrade” to give the user an idea of what they imagine the internet might be like without net neutrality.
So what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality essentially means that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all data on the internet the same. They cannot discriminate or charge different amounts based on the user, content, website, platform, etc. This prohibits ISPs from blocking content for certain users or slowing down streaming or loading speeds for different websites.
ISPs like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast could charge users to access specific websites or, more likely, charge companies like Netflix or YouTube for “fast passes” that would let them buy faster bandwidth.
Why has it been all over your social media?
In May, the Republican-backed FCC voted to reduce Obama-era regulations on ISPs. These regulations have often been known as net neutrality rules. When the rules were passed in 2015, they were the most stringent that cable and telecom companies had experienced.
FCC Republicans voted along party lines to review the rules with the goal of getting rid of some of them.
“The FCC specifically has proposed to eliminate the vague ‘general Internet conduct standard,’ which gives the FCC far-reaching discretion to prohibit any ISP practice that it believes runs afoul of a long and incomplete list of factors,” the FCC said in a statement.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been very vocal about cutting back on regulations and hopes to “return the U.S. to the bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework under which a free and open Internet flourished for almost 20 years,” according to the FCC.
Now, there are others fighting back hoping to keep net neutrality. And most of them are on your social media feed.
Why do people want to keep net neutrality?
Most are concerned that if net neutrality is abolished, ISPs could segregate the internet into two different camps: one for major companies who could afford to pay for faster internet and the rest of us.
“Proponents additionally argue that rolling back net neutrality could lead to an increase in internet bills for everyday web users and dent the innovation that can sprout from an open, available web — smaller startups with new ideas might not be able to afford the ISP fees,” Fortune reported.
Comcast and Verizon and other big cable and broadband providers could charge users a monthly fee for internet access, then charge Amazon, Netflix and any other sites they wanted for “fast passes.” Consumers may then pay a monthly fee for high-speed internet, but if they’re trying to access a website that hasn’t, the internet speed may still be throttled.
Why do people want to end net neutrality?
In April, a group of small cable providers signed a letter addressed to the FCC asking it to end net neutrality, saying the policy imposed “onerous burdens” on their business, according to The Verge.
“Heavy-handed regulations are especially tough on new entrants and small businesses that don’t have the armies of lawyers and compliance officers that large, well-established companies do,” Pai said.
However, it may not be the actual regulations that are costing these small “mom and pop” ISPs, but the tens of thousands of dollars they spend proving to the FCC they are following the regulations, according to the Verge.
Those who support the rollbacks also believe that companies using a lot of data (like Netflix or YouTube) are slowing the internet down, Fortune reported. They say charging big streaming companies could lead to a faster and more efficient connection (though this would most likely up the price for consumers using these services). It may also end illegal downloading through sites like BitTorrent.
Net neutrality is a complicated and multifaceted issue, but it will affect all internet users. So instead of scrolling past it on your social media, start with a bit of research. Luckily, there are quite a few people ready and willing to answer your questions.