Net Neutrality Explained

It's our internet. Fight to keep it free

Internet or Net Neutrality 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 such as email, chat, and IM.

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 points. In essence, the internet is open to everyone.

  • As of October 27, 2020, the FCC voted to uphold the 2017 repeal of Net Neutrality rules. This vote means big broadband companies can raise prices and throttle bandwidth without repercussion should they choose to do so.
  • In December 2020, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a staunch proponent of the repeal of Net Neutrality, resigned, leading to speculation that current legislation may be reversed in the future under the Biden administration.
  • In January 2021, President Biden appointed Jessica Rosenworcel as the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission; she's considered a frontrunner for the permanent job. Rosenworcel is a staunch supporter of Net Neutrality.
  • In February 2021, California won a court ruling that allows the state to enforce its net neutrality law while a lawsuit by telecommunications companies works its way through the courts. The Justice Department had recently dropped its lawsuit against California's net neutrality law.
  • In March 2021, tech companies, including Mozilla, Reddit, Dropbox, Vimeo, and more, sent a letter to the FCC in an official call to reinstate Net Neutrality.
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 can access the entire web. That means any website, video, download, or email. We use the web to communicate with others, go to school, do our jobs, and connect with people worldwide. When Net Neutrality governs the web, this access is granted without any restrictions whatsoever.

Why Is Net Neutrality Important?

These are a few reasons why Net Neutrality is important:

  • Growth: Net Neutrality is the reason the web has grown at 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 allows us to communicate freely with people on a personal basis. Government leaders, business owners, celebrities, work colleagues, medical personnel, family, and others can communicate and collaborate without restrictions.

Strong Net Neutrality rules should be left in place to ensure these things exist and thrive. With Net Neutrality rules now approved for repeal by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), everyone who 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, or 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, the 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 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's 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. Many companies 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."

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 could put their own protections in place. It remains possible the FCC rollback 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 can still contact your representative to tell your position on Net Neutrality. The site prompts you to fill in information to send an email automatically to your area's congressperson. Fill in your name and other requested information, and the site sends the email for you.

The information box used to submit email requests to Congress.

When you complete the email form, the following pop-up window appears (unless you have pop-up blockers in place). If you want to make a call, you can. If you don't, click the X in the upper-right corner to close the window.

Make double the impact with a phone call to Congress.

Website Owners Can Place Sites and Social Media on Red Alert

If you have your own site, 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.

Red Alert fill-in box for business owners.

What Could Happen When 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. However, the concept of neutral, publicly accessible information and transfer of that information has been around since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Basic public infrastructures, such as subways, buses, and telephone companies, aren't allowed to discriminate, restrict, or differentiate common access. 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.

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