Nate Northway

Net Neutrality: What it Is, Why it Matters, and How it Concerns You

blog | January 26, 2017

Ajit Pai being sworn in as FCC Commissioner. He will be a major player in the decisions on Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality has been a hotly debated topic for a few years now. But after the 2015 ruling upholding the FCC's classification of the internet as a utility (thus applying Common Carrier laws to the ISPs), it hasn't been discussed as much. With the US's recent election, however, the freedom of the internet is in question again.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Wikipedia has a really good article that on Net Neutrality. To summarize, it's the principle that ISPs (Internet Service Providers - ATT, Time Warner, Comcast, etc) and governments regulating the internet should treat all data the same, without discrimination (throttling or price changing) against type, source, or destination of data. Additionally, practicing Net Neutrality ensures that discrimination doesn't occur based on the type of hardware attached to access the network or the mode of communication.

The principles of Net Neutrality cover quite a few bases: it ensures that dissenting ideas are not silenced, ensuring a freedom of speech. It also ensures that users can use common hardware to access networks, which makes it accessible to all classes. Additionally, the principle ensures that those using different modes of communication are able to access the network, too, further ensuring the Net's accessibility.

Accessibility and the free flow of information are ingrained in the DNA of the internet. Since the internet's inception, data exchange has been at it's heart. Since then, partly thanks to Net Neutrality, accessibility has become a cornerstone of the internet. Governments have requirements outlining the ways in which their websites need to be accessible so that users with disabilities can access them. Most websites are built with accessibility features, like the WAI-ARIA initiative headed by the W3C.
In fact, accessibility is a part of most technology. Hardware and software implementations of accessibility features have been present in most technology for a long time, and has been reported on since at least 1980. With accessibility being such a pillar of technological design, it's logical to ensure accessibility for a part of technology that is (probably the most) public part of modern and future technology.

The Role Of Data

Though hardware plays an important role in making the internet neutral, it's meaningless without data. The other facet of Net Neutrality is non-discrimination of data. Since ISPs have the ability (and arguably the responsibility) to monitor data, it's origins, destinations, and type, it is their duty under the principle of Net Neutrality to ensure the equal handling of data.

If that's a little difficult to understand, let's use an example: without net neutrality laws, ISPs like Comcast could charge consumers extra for data that comes from sources that criticize them, their supporters, the political or social leaders they support. Additionally, they could throttle, corrupt, and/or edit the data that is sent to the end user to ensure that their agenda and goals are met.

Why it Matters

Net Neutrality matters because it ensures the equal distribution of data and access thereof. Without net neutrality, it's possible that the public could live in a sort of corporate dystopia - one in which the ISPs are the lawmakers. With lobbying being such a huge part of politics in the United States, lack of net neutrality could lead to a lot of problems. Not only could giants such as Comcast and ATT use lobbyists to get politicians to make laws in their favor, they could also control the information being distributed to the public, so it's possible that they could be making deals in their favor and nobody would know about it.

How it Concerns You

Recently, there has been a lot of talk of a phenomenon known as "fake news". Fake news exists to encourage complacency in a population which does a good job of just skimming the surface - meaning that facts and research aren't looked into often. Often, fake news confirms beliefs that certain parts of the populous already have, without any evidence to support those beliefs. This is confirmation bias and has lead to numerous misunderstandings, misconceptions, and a disregard for facts on a number of social issues.

Even with net neutrality in place, fake news is a huge part of social media and has had an effect on politics in America. Without net neutrality, verifiability of sources would be next to impossible, meaning that the spread of fake news would be rampant. It's truly Orwellian.

So, to the end user, a lack of net neutrality means the loss of journalistic integrity and a return to old ways of obtaining news and verifying it: newspapers and trips to the libraries, finding sources still under common carrier laws (like television and radio), and putting a heavy dose of skepticism on everything.

What You Can do to Ensure the Net Stays Neutral

The best things to do include figuring out who your representative is and writing, calling, and emailing them in support of net neutrality. Sharing articles about net neutrality on social media to tell your friends about it is important, too (and encouraging them to contact their representatives is good practice). You can also donate to the Freepress, which is dedicated to fighting anti-Net Neutrality.

If you don't donate or write your representatives, at least tell your friends about net neutrality and it's importance to freedom in the United States and the world. Here are some good articles on Net Neutrality:

Again, if you don't donate to Free Press or contact your representatives, at least tell your friend about Net Neutrality and it's importance to freedom. Start by sharing the articles above and discussing the topics with your friends.

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