Net Neutrality in a Nutshell
Everybody knows that the government is really good at the Internet, right? Al Gore invented the Internet, right? That new healthcare website worked just as well as Google and Facebook, right out of the box, right? The government we trust to protect the freedom of the press and of speech has zero interest monitoring our every single communication, right? We’re fucked, right?
Well, maybe the giant corporations can better serve our interests, while using our money to keep those government bozos from meddling with our affairs. Surely those good, American corporations want us to see whatever we want on the Internet, whenever we want, right? No, it’s called blocking. Surely since we’re paying them for the quality of their products, they would never intentionally reduce that quality? No, it’s called throttling. Certainly, since there’s a freedom of information in this great land of ours, everyone’s Internet is the same Internet? No, there’s a better Internet that you may not have, called the fast lane. We’re pretty much fucked.
Last week, new rules were created by the United States’ Federal Communications Commission. No, they’re not regulations about when you can or can not drop the F bomb. These are some additional regulations intended to protect something called Net Neutrality. Let’s take a look at all that, shall we? Let’s see whether it can un-fuck any of this mess.
What’s Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. (This is not to be confused with the doctrine of neutrality espoused by Wikipedia, which was the website where I found this definition.)
Last week, the FCC stated, essentially, that it would enforce three rules: (1) no blocking, (2) no throttling, and (3) no fast lanes. The FCC says that it has the authority to impose these rules because of the Communications Act, which grants the FCC the authority to regulate telecommunications services. Now, according to the government, Internet service is a “telecommunications” service as opposed to an “information” service. Believe it or not, the distinction is meaningful? Language is fun!
What Does Net Neutrality Mean for Me?
Your Internet service provider might have been breaking one of the 3 big rules, and so your access to the Internet might have been blocked, throttled or stuck in a slow lane. For example, you may have been using file-sharing networks (for legal purposes of course) but found them to be slow, faulty, or dysfunctional. Maybe you blamed it on an old computer or a bad connection or a broken website. Maybe you never noticed at all. These new rules would do away with all that, and hopefully you’d notice the improvements.
If you’ve been online for a while, you may have had a nomadic experience with it, especially at the beginning of the social Internet. Maybe you started out on Friendster before moving on to MySpace and then finally to Facebook and beyond. If your Internet provider had made a deal with MySpace, to throttle your access to its competitor, you might not have been as able to move on to an arguably superior website. Maybe you’d be stuck on Ebay instead of Etsy, YouTube instead of Vimeo, Flickr instead of Instagram, Yahoo Answers instead of Stack Exchange — the point is: without any blocking or throttling, you’re free to use whatever website you please, and may the best one win out for you (unless it’s GeoCities because, sorry, it was euthanized).
You (may) have been spied on against your knowledge on the Internet. Whether it was hackers, terrorists, governments, corporations, or bored teenagers, you’d probably like to have some assurance that they’ll all just mind their own business, or at least that there’s something in place to deter them. Well, the new rules from the FCC would give it the authority to “protect consumer privacy,” although the exact meaning of this will likely change or take time to develop. The privacy protections are not among the three big rules, but they’re mentioned.
There will be blood. There’s way too much money at stake here for the opponents of Net Neutrality to simply accept the decision of the FCC. There may be lawsuits. The House Judiciary Committee has already expressed disdain, although they didn’t go so far as to claim that any laws have been broken.
You’re likely to hear about Net Neutrality on the radio, to see people discussing it on television, and to read about it in print and online. When you do, if the current coverage is any indication, you’ll get lots of opinions from lots of people with lots of perspectives, but you won’t get many quotes from source documents, or many links directly to those documents. Minus the potentially interesting White House documents, there are two excellent primary sources available. The first is the press release from the FCC that summarizes it and the second is the Open Internet Order itself. Armed with those, you can get your information straight from the source before you go to duke it out conversationally amid the free and unfettered, somewhat regulated, bazaar of ideas on the World Wide Web.