Net neutrality is government regulation that ensures Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon treat all web content equally, meaning they cannot selectively restrict access or slow down or speed up service based on a website’s popularity, success or financial ties to the ISP.
When you go online you have certain expectations. You expect to be connected to whatever website you want. You expect that your cable or phone company isn’t messing with the data and is connecting you to all websites, applications and content you choose. You expect to be in control of your internet experience.
When you use the internet you expect Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked.
In 2015, millions of activists pressured the Federal Communications Commission to adopt historic Net Neutrality rules that keep the internet free and open — allowing people to share and access information of their choosing without interference.
Net Neutrality debate
In the United States, internet service providers (ISPs) and Net Neutrality proponents disagree about whether broadband internet is an opt-in service or a necessary utility. If the internet is a utility, it must be licensed by a government agency and customer data can not be sold. When the telephone reached utility status, the Communications Act of 1934 established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and granted the new government agency the power to regulate telephone service providers as common carriers.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 exempted the emerging internet from common carrier regulation but in 2010, the FCC ruled that U.S. internet broadband providers should be held to the same regulations as telecom carriers. The ruling, which was enacted during the Obama administration, essentially classified broadband internet as a utility, subject to government regulation under the FCC. In 2014, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to extend common carrier rules to ISPs. The FCC, however, claimed its legal authority to do so was grandfathered under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
In June 2016, a U.S. federal court upheld the FCC’s ruling and ability to prohibit broadband internet providers from slowing or blocking internet content delivery to consumers. The ruling also prohibited broadband providers from prioritizing traffic from edge providers who are willing to pay higher fees for faster delivery, a practice known as zero rating.
What will happen to the internet now?
Without the Net Neutrality rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to call all the shots and decide which websites, content and applications succeed.
These companies can now slow down their competitors’ content or block political opinions they disagree with. They can charge extra fees to the few content companies that can afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service.
The consequences will be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.
Without Net Neutrality, how will activists be able to fight oppression? What will happen to social movements like the Movement for Black Lives? How will the next disruptive technology, business or company emerge if internet service providers let only incumbents succeed?
Why is Net Neutrality important for businesses?
Net Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs, who rely on the open internet to launch their businesses, create markets, advertise their products and services, and reach customers. We need the open internet to foster job growth, competition and innovation.
It’s thanks to Net Neutrality that small businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive online. But without Net Neutrality, ISPs will exploit their gatekeeper position and destroy the internet’s fair and level playing field.
Without Net Neutrality, the next Google or Facebook will never get off the ground.
What can we do now?
Congress has the power to reverse the FCC’s vote. Urge your lawmakers to use a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s decision to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules.
The Trump administration is doing everything in its power to clamp down on dissent. If we lose Net Neutrality, it will have succeeded.
Why is Net Neutrality so crucial for communities of color?
The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites.
The mainstream media have long misrepresented, ignored and harmed people of color. And thanks to systemic racism, economic inequality and runaway media consolidation, people of color own just a handful of broadcast stations.
This dynamic will only get worse: In 2017, Chairman Pai demolished most of the remaining media-ownership rules. The lack of diverse ownership is a primary reason why the media have gotten away with criminalizing and dehumanizing communities of color.
The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.
And without Net Neutrality, millions of small businesses owned by people of color wouldn’t be able to compete against larger corporations online, which would deepen economic disparities.