The new rules of net neutrality can be dense and confusing. If you haven’t been following along, the novel-length documentation of rules can seem daunting. Here is what you need to know about net neutrality and how its new rules affect you.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally. It is the principle that large service providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast should not be able to favor any of the content, applications, or websites that you want to use. Essentially, it is equality for internet content.
What is the debate?
Although the majority of people agree with the general concept of net neutrality, the recent set of rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015 has become a hotbed of controversy. A key point of contention is the reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service—which means broadband providers are the same as telephone networks under the eyes of the law (a classification that comes with a host of strict new regulations). The 400-page document also details net neutrality officially in writing. Net neutrality officially means:
- No Blocking: Simply, a provider cannot block lawful content.
- No Throttling: Providers cannot throttle—or slow down—specific content.
- No Paid Prioritization: A provider cannot be paid by companies for favored treatment. Essentially, no fast lanes.
Those in favor:
- Smaller, start-up companies would be hurt without net neutrality. Wheeler asserted that “if those innovators don’t have access to you—the consumer—it’s game, set match.
- Companies like Amazon would be able to plan attacks threatening traditional brick-and mortar retail stores.
- There has been a rise in broadband investment over the course of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s term—after the official passing of net neutrality (though only from $75 to $76 billion)
- There has been a large increase in households with high-speed connection between 2015 and the middle of 2016—reaching 61.4 million households in 2016 (almost 53% of American households).
- Prominent broadband providers, like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, argue that these new regulations allow the FCC to increase rates and will thus discourage them from upgrading their networks for consumers.
- The open internet rules claim that paid-prioritization deals would benefit the general consumer because providers can use their proceeds to expand their networks.
What does it mean for you?
It depends on who you ask. Those in favor of the rules say that you can expect to retain your online freedom and sleep soundly knowing that your data and content is not being altered with by outside forces. Those against the regulations, on the other hand, would tell you that the advancement of broadband has been stunted drastically and providers will no longer be able to expand their networks due to new regulations and rules.
For businesses that haven’t reached the stature of web giants like Amazon, the codification of net neutrality means your business’s digital presence cannot be tampered with by broadband providers and competitors’ content cannot be boosted by providers for a fee. You can continue to operate your digital footprint knowing that you are being treated equally by broadband providers, and consumers can view your digital content just as easily as they can view Amazon’s content.
The debate about net neutrality will likely wage on for quite some time, but many businesses and consumers can take relief in the continuation of internet freedom. Only time will tell how the regulations affect general broadband access in the long run.