Net Neutrality Explained

It's our Internet. Fight to keep it free

As of October 27, 2020, the FCC voted to uphold the 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. This means big broadband companies can raise prices and throttle bandwidth without repercussion should they choose to do so. The 2020 Presidential election could determine whether this current legislation stands or is reversed in the future.

Internet or 'Net' Neutrality, by definition, means that there are no restrictions of any kind on access to content on the web, no restrictions on downloads or uploads, and no restrictions on communication methods (email, chat, IM, etc.).

It also means that access to the Internet will not be blocked, slowed down, or sped up depending on where that access is based or who owns the access point(s). In essence, the Internet is open to everyone.

A knot on a flex to a portable computer close-up.
Plattform / Getty Images

What Does an Open Internet Mean for the Average Web User?

When we get on the web, we are able to access the entire web: that means any website, any video, any download, any email. We use the web to communicate with others, go to school, do our jobs, and connect with people all over the world. When Net Neutrality governs the web, this access is granted without any restrictions whatsoever.

Why Is Net Neutrality Important?

  • Growth: Net Neutrality is the reason that the web has grown at such a phenomenal rate from the time it was created in 1991 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
  • Creativity: Creativity, innovation, and unbridled inventiveness have given us Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, torrents, Hulu, The Internet Movie Database, and much more.
  • Communication: Net Neutrality has given us the ability to freely communicate with people on a personal basis: government leaders, business owners, celebrities, work colleagues, medical personnel, family, etc., without restrictions.

Strong Net Neutrality rules should be left in place to ensure all of these things exist and thrive. With Net Neutrality rules now approved for repeal by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), everyone that uses the internet is expected to lose these freedoms.

What Are 'Internet Fast Lanes'? How Are They Related to Net Neutrality? 

'Internet fast lanes' are special deals and channels that would give some companies exceptional treatment as far as broadband access and internet traffic. Many people believe that this would violate the concept of Net Neutrality. 

Internet fast lanes could cause issues because instead of Internet providers being required to provide the same service for all subscribers regardless of size/company/influence, they could be able to make deals with certain companies that would give them preferred access. This practice could potentially hamper growth, strengthen illegal monopolies, and cost the consumer. 

In addition, open internet is essential for a continued free exchange of information—a bedrock concept that the World Wide Web was founded upon.

Is Net Neutrality Available Worldwide?

No. There are countries—now including the United States—whose governments want to or have restricted their citizens’ access to the web for political reasons. Vimeo has a great video on this very topic that explains how limiting access to the internet can impact everyone in the world.

In the U.S., the 2015 FCC rules were intended to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favoring their own content. With the FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality on December 14, 2017, those practices will now be allowed as long as they are disclosed.

Is Net Neutrality in Danger?

Yes, as evidenced by the 2017 FCC vote to remove Net Neutrality regulations. There are many companies that have a vested interest in making sure that access to the web is not freely available. These companies are already in charge of most of the web’s infrastructure, and they see potential profit in making the web “pay for play.” 

This could result in restrictions on what web users are able to search for, download, or read. Some people in the United States are even afraid that changes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could result in a negative Net Neutrality ruling.

In 2019, a D.C. circuit court ruled that the FCC acted within its rights to roll back Net Neutrality protections, however, the ruling also said that states can now put their own protections in place. It remains possible the FCC roll-back could be struck down in the future.

You Can Still Fight for Your Rights

At Fight for the Future's Battle for Net Neutrality site, you still can contact your representative to tell your position on Net Neutrality. The site will prompt you to fill in information to automatically send an email to your area's congressperson. Simply fill in your name and other requested information; the site will send the email for you.

A view of the information box used to submit email requests to Congress.
Use your power and contact Congress.

Once you have completed the email form, the following pop-up window will appear (unless you have pop-up blockers in place). If you want to also make a call, you can. If you do not, click the 'X' in the top-right corner to close the window.

Call pop-up window.
Make double the impact with a phone call to Congress.

Web Site Owners Can Place Sites and Social Media on Red Alert

If you have your own site, you can show your support for the rollback and inform your site's visitors about the issue, too. Battle For The Net is running a 'Red Alert' campaign that offers a widget; avatar images; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram images; and banner ads that site owners can use to make their own statement about the issue.

Screenshot of Red Alert fill-in box for business owners.
Put your site or social media on Red Alert for the issue.

What Could Happen If Net Neutrality Is Restricted or Abolished?

Net Neutrality is the foundation of the freedom that we enjoy on the web. Losing that freedom could result in consequences such as restricted access to websites and diminished download rights, as well as controlled creativity and corporate-governed services. Some people call that scenario the "end of the internet."

The Bottom Line: Net Neutrality is Important to All of Us

Net Neutrality in the context of the web is somewhat new, but the concept of neutral, publicly accessible information and transfer of that information has been around since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Basic public infrastructure, such as subways, buses, telephone companies, etc., are not allowed to discriminate, restrict, or differentiate common access, and this is the core concept behind Net Neutrality as well.

For those of us who appreciate the web, and want to preserve the freedom that this amazing invention has given us to exchange information, Net Neutrality is a core concept that we must work to maintain.