What Is Net Neutrality, and What Does It Actually Mean for You?

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You don't need to be a news buff to have at least heard of the term "net neutrality." Not only is this buzzword dominating the headlines, but the heated debate around implies net neutrality may have an impact on your day-to-day life. Much of the debate leading up to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) 2018 decision to roll back regulations on internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast takes aim at a question at the heart of every political debate, which is, 'What role does and should government play in our daily lives?' In the case of what net neutrality actually means, WNYC's The Takeaway, summarizes the question well by asking its readers and listeners, "Should the internet be a government-regulated public utility, or is it simply a service provided by companies that should be allowed to charge what they like in a free marketplace?"

Keep reading to read more about net neutrality and what it could mean for you.

What Is Net Neutrality?

In short, "net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally," Business Insider explains. In 2017, the FCC voted to repeal the existing net neutrality rules, which could see widespread changes to the way we use the internet. Meaning, internet service providers (known as ISPs in the tech world) such as Verizon and AT&T must treat all data on the internet the same. For example, ISPs can't pick and choose which websites or apps you can access, similar to the way cable TV works, reports many outlets who've covered net neutrality. NPR in 2017 reported that the term was coined by university law professor Tim Wu in 2003.

Business Insider's Steve Kovach says the 2018 decision is a "move that could fundamentally reshape the Internet." Now that the regulations have been repealed, it opens the proverbial floodgates to a ton of changes, ranging from the speed of accessing content and the cost of services.

These regulations had been in place since 2015, and in 2018, the FCC rolled back some of these regulations in several ways, to include requiring internet service providers to disclose to subscribers when a change to their service will occur, which often comes in the form of lengthy fine print, reports Business Insider.

What Does Net Neutrality Mean for You?

Without net neutrality protections, news media like Vox and ABC report internet service providers have a lot more freedom, such as the ability to "control what you access on the internet, meaning they will be able to block access to specific websites and pieces of software that interact with the internet," reports Vox.

Similarly, industry analysts like Glenn O'Donnell told The Washington Post anticipate costs to access the internet will rise. "For most of us, I expect we will pay more. Service bundles (e.g., social media package, streaming video package) will likely be bolted on to basic transport for things like web surfing and email."

Here are some of the changes that could occur now that the rules have been repealed, according to Business Insider:

  • You could be blocked or charged extra for streaming video from websites/providers like Netflix or YouTube.
  • Video sites could be charged to ensure their content videos can be streamed at the same speed and quality as other sites; costs that would likely be passed onto the consumer.
  • ISPs could block access to particular companies' sites.
  • ISPs could prioritize content from their partners.

On the other hand, those who aren't a fan of net neutrality believe less government regulation means more and innovative choices for how we consume content as it allows smaller and newer companies to compete for our dollars. It would also force the big companies to compete for our business, though those who support net neutrality argue that many areas of the country are serviced only by one internet service provider; a monopoly. Largely, reports Quartz, it remains unclear how exactly ISPs will act, until they do.

So Net Neutrality Has Been Repealed—What Next?

Shortly after the repeal was reported, net neutrality defenders appealed the FCC decision in court in 2019, arguing that repealing the Obama-era policy was unlawful. While the Court of Appeals found nothing wrong with the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality, Axios reported in October 2019 that states have the authority to set their own net neutrality protections. To view the entirety of the FCCs changes, read the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in Word, PDF, or text format, available on the FCC website.

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