What Is Net Neutrality? These 5 Facts Are So Simple Even The FCC May Finally Understand It

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What Does Net Neutrality Mean? 5 Facts Explaining Why We Need It & How It Can Be Saved
Entertainment And News, Self

How and why to save the free Internet as we know it.

You may have recently noticed yourself and/or your even your smartest friends asking questions like these on social media:

  • Is net neutrality good or bad?
  • Why is everyone talking about net neutrality?
  • Is Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, really a complete and total tool? (To be fair, I may have added that one for fun, but if you haven't heard that question, you'll soon understand why I did.)

Long story short, net neutrality is the Internet as we now know it.

This confusing and misleading combination of two words is the reason you and your friends can ask these questions on any social media apps or Internet forums or via as many Google, Yahoo, or Bing searches you'd like to without paying anything other than your monthly bill to your internet service provider, i.e, your ISP, which is most often your cable company (Cox or Frontier, for example) or your cell phone service provider (T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc.).


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Net neutrality was first formalized by the FCC on February 26, 2015, at which time then-FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, said: 

"This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept."

Here are 5 facts that explain net neutrality and why the FCC's current plan to repeal it has the entire World Wide Web up in arms.

1. Net neutrality means the Internet is your free oyster.

When you select your ISP, you have two essential choices to make (yes, there are others, but we're keeping this simple and somehow somewhat easy to understand, so tech nerds, you need to chill right now).

First, you select a connection speed for your WiFi, which affects how many milliseconds you have to spend screaming at your screen until whatever you just clicked on loaded. Second, if the plan is for your smartphone, you also select how much data you can use each month, i.e., how many things like text messages, emails, images, movies, photos, videos, other files, etc. you can send, receive, download and/or upload each month without being charged above the set cost of your monthly bill.

And that's it.

You don't have to pay to use Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or Twitter or Snapchat or Tumblr or the official site for My Little Pony. You don't have to pay to Google things like "Why won't he return my texts?" or "Why do people hate mushrooms?" And you if you would prefer to ask those questions of Bing or Yahoo or if you want to ask Siri to find out the answer for you, you are free to have it in which ever way your little net neutrality protected heart desires. 

It's an all you can eat Internet buffet out there once you've signed up for cable, and if you're honest with yourself about that, it's pretty damn awesome. 

In contrast to what we have in place currently, here's a look at Internet plan options offered by an ISP in Portugal, where net neutrality doesn't exist.

While I unfortunately don't speak Portuguese and therefore have no idea what the words in that image mean, it should be fairly plain to see that people who want access to various apps and services have to pay additionally money every month to do so, in a way we in the U.S. are currently fortunate enough not to.


2. Net neutrality means the Internet is a somewhat level playing field for people.

The FCC's vote means that we may potentially have to pay for everything from texting to watching an Instagram story. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made the following video addressing online discussion of his "plan to restore Internet freedom," in which he highlights "7 things you can still do on the internet after net neutrality."

In what I suppose he intends as an effort to ease the public's mind, Pai condescendingly assures us all that we will still be able to do the following:

  • "Gram your food"
  • "Post photos of cute animals"
  • "Shop for all your Christmas presents online"
  • "Binge watch your favorite shows"
  • "Stay part of your favorite fan community" — notably he elects to portray himself as Darth Vader, although he uses Mace Windu's purple light saber, IDK.
  • "Drive memes right into the ground"
  • "And everything else you ever did on the Internet. Like, everything."

While yes, he is correct that you will still be able to do all of these things, he leaves out one simple fact. 

You will be able to do these things... IF you can/will pay for them.

While the Internet certainly discriminates in plenty of powerful and destructive ways, and there are of course people who are not able to afford access to it, by and large, the majority of people in the U.S. can and do. There is no way to know what income level someone falls into because they are on Instagram or Twitter. Without net neutrality, all of that may change. 

Unemployed and want to log into LinkedIn in order to search for jobs? If net neutrality is repealed, you'd better hope your ISP doesn't feel like you should be willing to pay extra for that privilege... 


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3. Net neutrality means the Internet is a somewhat level playing field for businesses.

At this moment in time, free enterprise is the status quo when it comes to running a business online. It may appear as though Google has a monopoly on the whole search engine thing, but that isn't actually true. Google is, arguably of course, the best search engine. Most of us choose to Google things rather than to Bing them because we have found better results when we do. But if some reason your heart has a sentimental attachment elsewhere, by all means, Bing away your day. It won't affect the speed of your connection or the cost of your aforementioned bill from your ISP.

And should another developer come along with a superior search engine we all prefer? Bravo to them! Either way, the successes and failures of any particular endeavor online will rest on the work of those behind it, not on an ISPs making deals with websites that make all other choices in their particular niche simply too expensive or malfunctioning for any of us. 

I mention potentially "malfunctioning" sites because costs for services wouldn't be the only way ISPs can back us into corners without the protections of net neutrality. If the FCC manages to pass their proposed repeal through Congress, they will be able to mess with our personal preferences in all sorts of ways we can only yet surmise. 

Let's watch one potential way this could manifest in action, shall we?

Imagine that Verizon pressures Netflix into makes a deal with Netflix whereby, for an astronomical price, Netflix viewers will be able to stream movies and TV shows more reliably than on any other streaming site. A competing start will never stand a chance at matching Netflix's paid for speeds, and individuals viewers will be left with little-to-no choice but to pay increased monthly subscription prices as they rise according to the will of both the ISPs and the websites signing deals with the devil with them.


4. Even the biggest players/competitors on the Internet agree with each other we MUST protect net neutrality.

In the example above, please be clear that I only used Netflix as an example. No one get all crazy thinking the people over there are in on any of this please. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

In fact, the very idea of doing away with net neutrality is so egregious that pretty much every major website and social media platform you can think of — including Reddit, Kickstarter, Netflix, Vimeo, College Humor, Airbnb, Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Yelp, and Google — joined in a "Day of Action" intended to show their unified support of the effort to save net neutrality.

When every single big gun online is on the same page AGAINST something they would likely profit from greatly, you really have to stop and think just how evil the FCC's concept must be.


5. Most of the arguments in favor of repealing net neutrality are unequivocally false.

Several arguments in favor of the FCC's plan to end net neutrality are, if not distortions or misrepresentations of the truth, flat out lies. 

The lie I have personally found most rampant is the claim that net neutrality didn't even exist prior to 2015, so really, we'd just be going back to how things were, and back then everything was just fine. 

Here'e the truth about that one. Tim Wu from the Columbia University School of Law actually coined the term "net neutrality" in 2003, in an article he wrote for the Journal of Telecommunications titled "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination." And the reason he wrote about this issue was that, in fact, cable companies were already employing exactly the kind of unethical practices people fear will become even more widespread if net neutrality is repealed. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • In 2009, AT&T tried blocking Skype to cut down on competition with its own services. Another article on Wired explains:

    "Apple and AT&T had a secret agreement to ban apps that would let iPhone users make phone calls using the wireless data connection, a fact that was revealed this summer when the FCC asked the duo to explain why Google's innovative Voice app was rejected for the iPhone store.

    So for instance, Skype, the world's most popular phone service, had to cripple its application so that it would only work when an iPhone was using Wi-Fi. Skype users can call each other for free, and Skype international calls are substantially cheaper than ones placed through a traditional carrier."

  • In 2011, When Google announced its Wallet app, Verizon (who was working on an alternative payment platform —  called, ironically, ISIS — with AT&T, and T-Mobile, along with banking giants Discover and Barclays) tried to block access to Google Wallet for their subscribers. 

  • In 2012, AT&T blocked users on its lower tier services from using Apple’s FaceTime video chat feature. An article in Wired at the time stated that, "Among other things, the company says that it is simply a business decision to use FaceTime as a hostage to move recalcitrant customers to a new plan."

  • And in 2014, Comcast and Verizon both slowed down streaming speeds for all Netflix users until Netflix agreed to pay them a premium, after which services were restored to their previous levels of functioning.

So, yeah, prior to 2015, all was NOT going so well.

So, you may ask, why wouldn't FCC Chairman Ajit Pai understand why protecting net neutrality is so important?

It may interest you to know that Pai, who was appointed to his role by President Donald Trump in January 2017, is a former lawyer... FOR VERIZON. You know, one of the ISPs that has not only been most outspoken against net neutrality and which has already conducted itself in exactly the way people fear they might conduct themselves again if it is repealed, but which also stands to earn the greatest profits if Pai's efforts in this vein are successful.

As Nilay Patel wrote for The Verge:

"FCC chairman Ajit Pai is fond of saying that “the internet was not broken in 2015” when he argues for repeal of our nation’s net neutrality rules. This is particularly funny to me, because in 2014 I literally wrote an article called 'The internet is f**ked.'

Why was it f**ked? Because the free and open internet was in danger of becoming tightly controlled by giant telecom corporations that were already doing things like blocking apps and services from phones and excusing their own services from data caps. Because the lack of competition in the internet access market let these companies act like predatory monopolies. And because our government lacked the will or clarity to just say what everyone already knows: internet access is a utility."

The good news is that all is not yet lost.

As of this date, reports indicate that attorneys general from New York, Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and at least eight additional states "announced plans to challenge the FCC’s net neutrality repeal." 

Senators Brad Hoylman from New York and Scott Weiner from California are "working on a bi-coastal bill to address last week's repeal of the net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission."

The National Hispanic Media Coalition has "announced plans to challenge the FCC’s removal of net neutrality protections. 'Chairman Pai’s repeal of net neutrality rules is a frontal attack on Latinos and other communities of color, who already face substantial barriers in getting online, staying online, and having high quality Internet,' said Carmen Scurato, vice president of policy at the coalition."

A variety of websites have been set up with easy to fill out templates for anyone interested in saving net neutrality to submit a letter to their local members of Congress, and you can also employ the handy free services of Resistbot, an automated service through which you simply text the word "resist" to 50409, answer a few simple questions, compose a brief message to your elected officials, and voila!

You're fighting the good fight.

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Senior Editor and happily-former divorce coach & mediator Arianna Jeret is a recognized expert on love, sex, and relationships (except when it comes to her own life, of course) who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Join her Sundays at 10:20 PM EST for answers to ALL of your questions on Facebook Live on YourTango and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.