The situation in brief:
Net neutrality is under fire once again. Lobbyists from big cable companies (like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T) are putting pressure on the FCC to dismantle Title II, which allows Net Neutrality.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality means that right now all sites have equal access to their users (you). Internet providers just provide the internet: they don’t censor legal sites or regulate the speed at which those sites load. This is great for smaller sites and start-ups: the internet is a powerful tool to reach an audience. This is also great for users: access to a free and diverse web is a big part of democracy, free speech, and a free market.
What will happen if Net Neutrality disappears?
A free and open net is something people sort of take for granted. However, big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) want to control access in a big way, by creating a “fast lane” and a “slow lane” for site hosts. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs can reserve quick internet speeds for the sites that pay for it, leaving the sites that don’t (or can’t) pay for slower speeds.
What would that mean for me?
Slow loading speed is really bad for a website’s traffic. A lot of users get frustrated (understandably) if a site takes forever to load, and pictures and video take the longest. The sites that don’t pay for faster speed will lose traffic, and many will go under. A lot of sites will pay for faster speeds to survive, but that could mean that users will then have to pay to use a site that used to be free.
This isn’t the first time Net Neutrality has been at risk
You’ve probably at least heard the term because it has been in the news for the last several years. Every time political action brings Net Neutrality into the crosshairs, an internet-wide protest has resulted.
In 2007, Comcast got caught slowing/blocking Bit Torrent transfers.
2010: The FCC issues the Open Internet order, which requires ISPs to be transparent about their service management, and not to block or discriminate against lawful traffic.
2012: AT&T held an app ransom: they blocked FaceTime unless customers upgraded. In 2013, under protest, AT&T quit blocking FaceTime.
2014: AT&T allows companies to pay to allow their sites to be exempted from data caps.
2014: D.C. Circuit Court overturns the Open Internet Rules. The FCC introduces reclassification of broadband services as a telecommunication utility, and plans to allow “fast lanes and slow lanes.”
2014: John Oliver gives voice to the public outrage, and sends commenters to the FCC website, where they crashed the server:
2014: FCC begins investigating news that Netflix had to pay to improve streaming speeds.
2014: September 10th was “Internet Slowdown Day,” in which activists and companies with websites displayed a simulation of what a slower web would look like in the hopes of spurring people to get involved. Sites displayed the “circle of doom”—a loading icon. And it works. The deluge of comments once again crashes the FCC servers.
2014: President Obama puts his support behind Title II.
2015: The FCC passes Title II. Broadband is classified as a utility.
2015: The FCC publishes the Open Internet Rules, which ban throttling, blocking lawful websites, or allowing (or making) companies pay for faster speeds.
2016: The Open Internet Rules are affirmed by the D.C. Circuit Court.
2017: The new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, announces his plans to change the Open Internet Order. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is the first step of the process. Comments are once again being accepted.
May 7, 2017: John Oliver does it again. The FCC servers crash again under the stress of so many comments.
May 18, 2017: The FCC votes to continue changing the Net Neutrality rules, and the protest continues to rage.
July 12 has been dubbed the Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality (or Day of Action for short). Big and small sites and companies are participating—including Amazon, Etsy, Reddit, FunnyOrDie, Patreon, Deviant Art, Mozilla, Creative Commons, and the Writer’s Guild of America, among many others.