The End of Net Neutrality (and Why It’s Important)

“Net Neutrality”.

One of those buzzwords you have been hearing on the news the last couple of weeks. But what does it mean?

I’m going to take a quick break from my environmental posts to talk about this, since it is so important to many Americans, even though you might not know exactly whats going on.

The definition of net neutrality is basically that the internet companies must be neutral in what kind of content people consume on the internet in terms of payment plans. With net neutrality in place, the internet companies cannot charge more for people to stream Netflix, for example, but have to allow all types of content consumption (video streaming, e-mail, social media, news) the same price (which is usually just the internet price you pay from your provider).

However, it is not only based on price – with net neutrality in place, it means that all  internet service providers must give all connection types, locations, devices, and purpose the same quality of service and the same priority of service.

Last week, the courts ruled against it – meaning the companies could have full rein to change payment tiers and charge more per month (on top of internet charges) for different services. Check out this infographic from Buzzfeed (from a Reddit user) for an example of what the internet COULD be:

The courts ruled against it, but that doesn’t mean it’s over – yet. Popular Science reports that since this decision was because of “weak legal footing”, the case could be taken to the Supreme Court.

Killing net neutrality will kill internet expression and information. Social media streaming may be free, but that means that I couldn’t click on news stories from Twitter or Facebook. E-mail may be cheap per 500 mb, but myself and others check their e-mail way more often than that. And of course, video streaming will cost more, meaning people will have to pay for their base internet, the actual streaming service (between $8 and $12 a month) and another fee for being able to watch it. The FCC better watch out – you don’t mess with people’s Netflix and get away with it. Popular Science explains it this way:

They could also force some sites to load slower than others if they haven’t agreed to increased fees, meaning your Internet service could work fine while reading a news site but suddenly grind to a near halt when you switch over to, say, a video on Buzzfeed.

To put it in perspective, let’s use my internet usage as an example. Daily, I check my e-mail about 10 times (or more), browse Twitter/Facebook and Instagram/Tumblr, read about 20 news stories, work on a story for my blog, stream music for studying, and do countless Google searches. Weekly, I do all of those things, on top of watching a few episodes of something on Netflix, checking my queue on Hulu and ordering something from Amazon. For all of this activity, I would be expected to pay over $70 PER MONTH on top of a regular plan.

As you can see, this will be a hindrance to many people, and some petitions have already popped up. Internet petitions and outrage helped fix the problem with the Stop Online Piracy Act issue in January 2012: when Wikipedia went dark for a few days, the internet freaked out.

Despite all of this, some companies, including AT&T , say that this won’t change anything and the internet will remain free. The Broadband for America group, made up of companies and service providers, also released a statement saying “we have built our Internet services on this foundation of openness.  [The FCC’s] decision does not change that commitment.”

So, there is a whitehouse.gov petition to sign, as well as one from MoveOn.org, if you are so inclined to take action. Keep the internet open!

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