It’s not an exaggeration to say that the issue of net neutrality applies to all of us. If you’re a living, breathing human existing in the modern world today, you have a vested interest in the future of the web. Period. If you happen to be a living, breathing human in the United States, pay even closer attention, because net neutrality is under attack.
What is net neutrality and why should you even care about it?
In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates interstate and international communications via radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable, instated net neutrality rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to promote an “open Internet.”
An “open Internet” means an Internet where all data (content) is treated equally, as in a utility like electricity. For example, you pay for a certain amount of watts and the electric companies can’t control what you do with those watts, or decide that instead of building more power plants, they’ll throttle your service and charge you more for a “brighter bulbs plan.”
Just as we rely absolutely on electric companies to keep us plugged into the modern world, ISPs are the all-powerful entity we pay to maintain our all-but-vital connections to that vast river of data that is the Internet. Net neutrality prohibits the ISP from sticking its nets into that river and meddling with the fish.
The true role of the ISP is simply to provide the conduits through which you receive the data you choose without interference. Without net neutrality, ISPs can discriminate among the data you can and cannot view with the same efficiency based on where it’s coming from. As CGP Grey demonstrated so eloquently in his excellent YouTube video, “The power to preference some data over others is the power to favor one video site over another and to limit a tiny part of the pipe for the video—” Pause for buffering. “—you’re watching—” Pause for buffering. “—right now. Or trying to anyway.”
And this spells trouble. It certainly doesn’t bode well for startup sites or for you as the consumer. If ISPs have the power to create fast lanes for the sites they like, and throttled lanes for the ones they don’t, the uninhibited web-surfing experience you’ve grown accustomed to will be transformed for the worst. This political cartoon summarizes all these points pretty well.
How to Talk About Net Neutrality
Everyone should be talking about net neutrality at this very moment, in every setting, with gusto, so we’ve put together four basic talking points to help you have the most in-your-face, checkmate discussion on net neutrality ever.
Let’s assume that whoever you’re talking to has never heard of net neutrality, which is likely the case, unfortunately. So you’re going to get this question:
“What even is net neutrality?”
You’re an activist on-the-go, sparking up lively debates wherever the opportunity strikes, so we want you to be able to define net neutrality in a matter of seconds, whether you’re on the elevator, or in this case, enduring Sunday dinner at the in-law’s.
Talking Point Number One:
“Simply put, net neutrality is the concept that all data on the Internet should be treated equally, comparable to the treatment of electricity and other utilities.”
Your father-in-law looks unimpressed.
“Why is that important?” he remarks casually over the dinner table. Typical Frank thinks he’s thrown you a curveball, but you were expecting this. You can tell he doesn’t really care, but because you know that he should, you’re going to drive the point home like a boss.
Onto talking point #2!
“Why does net neutrality matter?”
After an appropriately timed spit-take, you cry, “What does it matter, Frank?!”
Talking Point Number Two:
“Without net neutrality, Frank, ISPs will be able to discriminate against the data allowed through the Internet connections you’ve paid for. This already happened between Netflix and Comcast. Customers who were paying for Netflix and paying for the Internet to stream Netflix through Comcast, suddenly found Netflix lagging at unbearable speeds. Comcast was throttling their service because Netflix was taking up so much of it. In essence, Netflix is now paying Comcast extortion fees just so that their services can be allowed through to their consumers without obstruction.”
Frank has had time to wipe your spittle from his face, but he appears to be more upset about what you’ve just said than the fact that you’ve just spit on him.
“How is that possible?” His tone suggests that he still doubts you, but you’ll show him. You’ll show him how wrong he was to wish Carol had married Mark the banker instead of you.
Onward to talking point #3!
“How can ISPs get away with such blatant extortion?”
You’re not actually surprised by Frank’s last question, but after an appropriately timed spit-take, you cry, “How is that possible, Frank?!”
You’re about to discuss the oh-so-vital difference between common carriers and information services, and you need him to pay attention.
Talking Point Number Three:
“ISPs can do this because there has been no precedent set for “information services,” as there has been for “common carriers” like airlines and telephone companies. Common carriers cannot, by law, discriminate among the things they carry. This means that Sprint can’t legally drop calls to Dominos because Dominos hasn’t paid their extortion fee.
But in 2010, Verizon fought a legal battle with the FCC against being called “common carriers” and they won. Until recently they’d been acting like common carriers, enjoying the main perk of not being liable for the data that moves through their cables, just as a telephone company isn’t liable for illegal dealings that happen to occur over the phone. Now that they’re dubbed “information services,” however, they can pretty much do whatever until the FCC reels them in and classifies them as common carriers.”
This was a mouthful, and Frank takes a moment to digest it. Then he asks, “And what can I do about it?”
You imagine his tone has changed to one of grudging respect. Mark the banker doesn’t know a thing about net neutrality, does he, Frank? you muse internally. Pfft. Mark. What a tool.
“What can I do about it?”
You’re on a roll now, and you jump in head first:
Talking Point Number Four:
“The main goal is to get ISPs reclassified as common carriers, and to have broadband Internet recognized as a utility. If this is achieved, net neutrality can be saved along with an open Internet that fosters creativity and opportunity for all, not just the few who can afford to pay the ISPs’ extortion fees.
“Celebrities and creative minds have already started petitions, but you can also write to your congressman and make your voice heard. Here, Frank, I’ll send you some links.”
With a flourish, you produce your smartphone and blast him over an email with links to more information. Then you sit back, arms crossed, and say, confusingly, “Excelsior.”
Leonard, Andrew. “Don’t be fooled by the FCC’s bogus back-down on net neutrality.” http://www.salon.com/2014/05/12/dont_be_fooled_by_the_fccs_bogus_back_down_on_net_neutrality/.
Estes, Adam Clark. “How to Yell at the FCC About How Much You Hate Its Net Neutrality Rules.” http://gizmodo.com/how-to-yell-at-the-fcc-about-how-much-you-hate-its-net-1576943170.
Harkinson, Josh. “Why the FCC is Ditching Net Neutrality.” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/charts-why-fcc-ditching-net-neutrality.
Hart, Vi. “Net Neutrality in the US: Now What?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAxMyTwmu_M.
Green, Hank. “Hank vs. Hank: The Net Neutrality Debate in 3 Minutes.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc2aso6W7jQ.
Resources for taking action:
List of FCC commissioners to contact directly: http://www.fcc.gov/leadership
Find your reps and let them know what you think about net neutrality: http://whoismyrepresentative.com/
General “open internet” FCC inbox: firstname.lastname@example.org
Set up a Whitehouse.gov account and check out these links too:
whitehouse.gov petition for general net neutrality: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/peti…
whitehouse.gov petition for reclassifying broadband as common carrier, specifically: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/peti…