Net Neutrality – What you need to know, why you need to care

Want to get slower internet service? Want to let two or three big corporations control what you can find on the internet? No? Then you need to care about net neutrality.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality means that all internet traffic is equal. Whether it’s NBC or Netflix or this blog, it’s all equal, and you can get all of it.

You get internet access through an Internet Service Providers (ISP). That might be Comcast — they’re one of the biggest ISPs. (Comcast also owns NBC and AT&T and lots of other companies, and now wants to buy Time Warner.)

Here’s a good description of net neutrality from Vox:

“Network neutrality is the idea that these companies should treat all internet traffic equally. It says your ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest.”

What’s the fast lane?

A fast lane sounds good, but what it really means is that big organizations can pay more money to get favorable treatment, while the little guys — like independent news operations or schools or your local park district get left behind. Blogger Marco Arment sums it up very well in Anti-Net-Neutrality Fast Lanes are Bullshit:

“This is not building anything new —it’s discriminating and restricting what we already have.

“This is not making anything faster — it’s allowing ISPs to selectively slow down traffic that they don’t strategically or financially benefit from, and only permit traffic from their partners to run at the speeds that everything runs at today.”

Why is net neutrality important?

If we have net neutrality, your ISP can’t decide to let Fox News load faster than MSNBC, or to fast-track NBC and make Netflix stutter and stop in the middle of movies. If we have net neutrality, your ISP can’t decide that sports and entertainment will load in a millisecond, but that political news can take the slow road. Or that some websites or political opinions get favored treatment and others become very hard to view.

Talking to Bill Moyers, Harvard law professor Susan Crawford explained:

“For most Americans, they have no choice for all the information, data, entertainment coming through their house, other than their local cable monopoly.  And here, we have a situation where that monopoly potentially can pick and choose winners and losers, decide what you see.”

Want to learn more? Here’s a fast-talking video, pretty entertaining and full of good information. (Thanks to Bob Collins for featuring the video in his News Cut blog.) And below are half a dozen places to learn more.


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