“Net neutrality” is a phrase that has become so pervasive in the news cycle that it’s almost inescapable. However, even though most Americans have heard the phrase at this point, many still don’t quite understand what exactly it means, or why exactly they should care–and they should care.
Net neutrality is essentially the idea that all internet providers should treat all web traffic equally. That may seem like common sense to you since that’s the way the internet has operated since its invention of the World Wide Web in 1990.
While net neutrality is the way the internet has always operated, it is not the way many providers want to keep it operating. Why is that? The major telecom companies claim that these net neutrality restrictions undermine investment in broadband and introduce uncertainty in what exactly constitutes acceptable business practices.
It all comes down to profit. If an internet provider is allowed to scale their services based on price than the floodgates are open. Imagine having to pay a premium to watch Netflix in HD. Want to play an online game? That’s going to cost extra. Want to stream a movie? More money please.
This debate has been ongoing in the US for the several years, but this past week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a plan to dismantle the landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet.
Ajit Pai, the current FCC Chairman who proposed the plan, spoke about the plan in a statement, saying ““Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”.
Before the plan can become law it will have to be passed by Congress and the White House. In the meantime, we can expect to see a fierce lobbying campaign, geared both towards lawmakers and the public from companies on both sides of the issue.
Currently most major telecom companies are for the changes, while major online companies like Google and Facebook are staunchly against it. The public seems to be fairly divided on the issue, mostly because many don’t fully understand what is at stake. Time will show what the concensus is.