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

Updated 02/01/18
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The term "net neutrality" is dominating headlines this week and is at the center of heated public discussion—but what does it mean? In short, "net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally," Business Insider explains. Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the existing net neutrality rules, which could see widespread changes to the way we use the internet and communicate online.

In fact, Business Insider's Steve Kovach goes so far as to say it is a "move that could fundamentally reshape the internet." Free Press adds, "the internet without net neutrality isn't really the internet." It might sound hyperbolic, but this isn't overstating the truth. Now that existing rules have been repealed, it opens the proverbial floodgates to a ton of changes, ranging from the speed of accessing content and the cost of services.

Confused? Here's what it could mean for you.

What Is Net Neutrality?

At its core, net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) must treat all data on the internet the same. For example, they can't charge differently by users or privileged content from their partners. Simple, right? The rules have been in place since 2015 when millions of activists pressured the FCC to adopt them, but it's been repealed today.

What Does It Mean for You?

Without net neutrality protections, internet service providers have a lot more freedom. "You and I and everyone else who uses the internet for personal use will see some changes in pricing models," industry analyst Glenn O'Donnell told The Washington Post. "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." The only responsibility ISPs have is to disclose practices to customers.

Here are some of the changes that could occur now that the rules have been repealed, according to Business Insider: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

So It's Been Repealed—What Next?

The rules won't take effect for a few months, and in the meantime, consumer-advocacy groups will surely file suits to block them. "Given the broad public support for net neutrality, there's a good chance lawmakers or the FCC will try to reinstate the rules if Democrats regain the majority in Congress next year or the White House in 2020," Business Insider reports. 

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