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In the wake of next week's oral argument about the FCC’s Open Internet rules, we revisit Net Neutrality and why is it important. We've also put together this timeline on the history of net neutrality.
Net neutrality is going to be back in the news for the next week or so. That’s because next week will feature an oral argument about the FCC’s Open Internet rules (that’s the FCC’s name for its net neutrality rules) before the DC Circuit Court. Since it has been a little while since the last big net neutrality news, we wanted to take a moment to bring everyone back up to speed. Today’s post will remind you what net neutrality is and why it is a good idea. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the FCC’s actual implementation of net neutrality through its Open Internet order. And on Thursday we will go over the issue actually being argued before the DC Circuit – if the FCC even has the authority to implement rules in the first place.
What is Net Neutrality Again?
Contrary to how it is sometimes used, net neutrality is not synonymous with “something bad happening on the internet.” It actually refers to something fairly specific. Simply put, net neutrality is the principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet. We’ve created a website – WhatIsNetNeutrality.org – to help people remember that. And if you prefer your explanations in video form, give this a spin.
The entire idea flows from the recognition that the company that is connecting you to the internet (your Internet Service Provider or ISP), controls your connection to the internet. As a result, your ISP is in a position to influence what you do with your internet connection. They could decide to prevent you from visiting some sites, or make some services work poorly, or even redirect you from one site to a competing site.
Net neutrality rules prevent this from happening. They make it clear that the company that connects you to the internet has an obligation to connect you to whatever part of the internet you desire. It is not the company’s role to nudge you in one direction, or to give preferential treatment to some services and sites over others.
Why is Net Neutrality Important?
One of the best things about the internet is that it doesn’t require special connections to be heard, or build an audience, or build a business. Anyone can start a blog, or a business, or a service online. One of the reasons for this is that there are no gatekeepers between that blog, business, or service and potential readers, customers, or users.
If ISPs could influence what you did online, that could change. Part of launching a new website would be flying around the country trying to cut distribution deals with large ISPs, which would take resources away from making the new website good. And to get those deals, you would have to outbid any established competitors that you are planning on competing against. ISPs could make entire areas of the internet “premium only” and require you to pay extra in order to reach them. Or ISPs could create special “fast lanes” where websites willing to pay extra could work faster. Of course, “fast lanes” only make sense if you put everyone else in the slow lane.
There are plenty of other reasons why net neutrality is important, but they all end up boiling down to a simple idea – your ISP should not determine which internet you can access.
What is Next?
As I said, next week the FCC will defend its Open Internet rules in court. Today’s blog post was all about net neutrality. Tomorrow we will explain how the FCC turned these ideas into rules, and if those rules are any good. On Thursday we will get a bit closer to the case itself, which is really about the FCC’s authority to make any net neutrality rules. And, of course, after the case is argued we will have a summary of what happened and an explanation of what to expect next.