Net Neutrality: What you should know and why it matters

Net Neutrality was an issue that came up in 2014, long before the world was swamped in articles on Donald Trump, when the Syrian War was still the big thing, and it’s rearing it’s ugly head again.

Net Neutrality is the belief that all internet traffic should be equally represented and treated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Currently, it’s classified as a utility, like electricity and water, and right now, the United States is battling to prevent that right from being taken away.

Let’s work with an analogy here. Picture a highway, with its lanes and it’s speed limits. In this scenario, the highway isn’t owned by the government, it’s owned by a private owner. The government ensures that the owner can’t charge extra for people going faster or slower, and they adhere to the government regulated speed limits.

The owner decides to build another highway adjacent to his stretch of highway, that allows cars to go much faster by having a greater speed limit, i.e 160km/H. Seems reasonable. He decides that he’s going to make people pay more money to use the faster highway. This is the ‘fast-lane’ proposal made by telecommunications companies in the US such as Comcast & Verizon (the owners in this metaphor).

The trouble comes here. The owner decides to reduce the speed limit on the original highway from 100 km/h to 70km/h, to ‘encourage’ people to use the more expensive, faster lane. But regular commuters need the fast lane to get to and from work on time, and they’re forced to use the fast lane.

Things are about to get trickier. Let’s say a food store (like Migros) use the highway for shipping via trucks. In this scenario, trucks have their own speed limit on the highway, and are charged extra for shipping goods. These are websites and services such as Netflix and Hulu.

The owner owns a share of a rival company, (such as Coop). Migros and Coop are rival companies. The owner decides he’s going to decrease the speed limit specifically for Migros trucks so that they can’t get to Migros stores as quickly. The result is that Migros stores go out of stock more often and have fewer items available at one time than Coop stores. The result is that more people go to the Coop stores instead and Migros quickly go out of business. This an example of how ISPs could control the internet. 

The internet is in total upheaval, with a number of youtubers, services and companies (namely Google, Twitter, Vimeo, Netflix, Kickstarter, Reddit and many more) raising awareness of the issue.

To be clear, in most countries, the Internet is not regarded as a privilege, it’s regarded as a utility, just like water and electricity. To quote youtuber TotalBiscuit, “You can’t charge a premium if you decide to pour water into a glass and drink it, versus using it to water your plants. That is just ridiculous, and yet abolition of net neutrality allows for just that.”

It may have looked bad in 2014 when, during negotiations with Comcast, Netflix’s download speed was decreased to an all time low before soaring back up after Netflix agreed to whatever Comcast demanded. But now it’s worse than ever, with these companies attempting to pass the deceptively named ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Act’. Furthermore, they’ve resulted to several unorthodox, if not illegal, methods.

Comcast desperately attempted to shut down https://www.comcastroturf.com/, a pro net-neutrality website, with a cease and desist order. Most recently, these cable companies used bots to inundate the FCC’s website with over 450,000 fake, anti-net neutrality comments. They even used people’s personal information; Over 7,000 Coloradans’ names and addresses were used to post fake anti-net neutrality comments, without their knowledge. Several other incidents have been researched and recorded by fightforthefuture.org, a pro-net neutrality organization. This can be found here.

Net Neutrality supporters argue that the death of net neutrality could allow these companies to manipulate free speech, to destroy the competition and the free market, to prevent access to basic human rights (i.e Healthcare), but also to suppress ‘startups’ and new companies, a vital component of the internet’s development and innovation. Some go as far as to say that the death of Net Neutrality could undermine democracy, which is a valid point considering how much information and news we get from the internet.

Right now this is a battle taking place only in the United States, but fears are that this issue could spread to countries around the world. I’m more concerned how the death of Net Neutrality could negatively affect education (i.e Khan Academy and Moodle) and work (Gmail and Google Drive) services over entertainment services, though I would miss my Netflix.

If you believe in Net Neutrality, check out the official website to find out more: https://www.battleforthenet.com/

There’s a ton of information from every corner of the internet that can probably explain the situation better than I can.

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