What exactly is net neutrality, and how does it affect you?

July 12 this year marks Net Neutrality Day. You’ve probably heard of it several times in the media already, especially during these last few months, and especially days as net neutrality day comes closer. But what exactly is net neutrality, and how does it affect you as an Internet user?

Google offers the following definition:

Net Neutrality                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
noun

   the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.    

In a nutshell, net neutrality means that no one will be able to manipulate your browsing experience as a result of their commercial or financial superiority. All web traffic will be treated as equal priority and websites you visit – no matter how big or small – will load at an equal rate.

Say, for example, that net neutrality did not exist. Network providers could choose to discriminate and decide how fast data will be transmitted and at what quality.  So in our example, say Comcast decides to prioritize their data over that of deTeched.com’s.  Information from Comcast will then be more desirable to the consumer since it is so much faster than the deTeched website.

Here’s a great visualized description, courtesy theopeninter.net. Imagine the pipes are bandwidth, letting internet traffic pass through.

Net neutrality

The above representation shows how services are distributed equally to a household regardless of what kind of traffic they are. This is the internet under net neutrality. All traffic is treated equally.

The image below shows how services on a package are manipulated as they go towards the consumer. This is the internet without net neutrality.

No net neutrality

Why is it important?

  • A free and open internet protects freedom of speech.
  • A free and open internet stimulates ISP competition.
  • A free and open internet helps prevent unfair pricing practices.
  • A free and open internet promotes the spread of ideas.

You may have recognized that the first point about freedom of speech correlates to the First Amendment. It makes sense – preventing someone from accessing the Internet in certain ways could indeed stymie them from voicing their opinion.

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