#NetNeutrality is a slogan that has been gaining traction lately, but it’s not new by any definition. On the surface, Net Neutrality carries a basic premise: All data should be treated equally. That’s all well and good, but data is not alive, per se, so why should it be afforded the same protections as a person? Well, that’s because data is so intrinsically linked to our daily lives that Internet access is now considered a basic human right alongside running water and electricity. As it turns out, manipulating or favoring some data over others creates a whole host of problems for you, the consumer.
What Does it Mean, Really?
Net Neutrality addresses certain behaviors that major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) engage in to give themselves a competitive advantage. A neutral Internet means that you are free to choose between Netflix, Hulu, or Comcast’s latest streaming offerings without being penalized for your choice; that is, it prevents Comcast from unlawfully eliminating competition by slowing down their Internet speeds, charging them more for the same service, or entering into exclusive deals.
Imagine that all of your local roads were owned by one single company. Now, imagine that you had to pay a monthly fee to use those roads. Keep in mind, there are no other roads you can use, and you must drive your car on those roads to get anywhere - the fee is unavoidable. This is your broadband Internet plan, and the companies that “own the roads” are Comcast and CenturyLink, at least in the Colorado Springs area.
Now, if you want to use these privately-owned roads to get fast food, you would assume that you could get to McDonalds or Burger King just as easily as any other fast food restaurant; however, McDonalds has entered into an exclusive agreement with the company that owns the roads, paying them thousands of dollars per month, allowing people driving to McDonalds the use of an extra ‘fast lane,’ with a much higher speed limit, that is not available for Burger King customers. This results in McDonalds gaining much more popularity while Burger King sees less and less customers as it becomes increasingly difficult to simply drive to the restaurant. See where we’re going with this?
Net Neutrality keeps ISPs and other corporations honest. In a country where profit is king, it can be difficult for small businesses to carve a niche where nationwide corporations are firmly entrenched. It would be impossibly difficult for an Internet-based business to do the same if Net Neutrality is repealed: they would simply be demolished in favor of higher-paying clients.
Why is Broadband Different than Other Utilities?
If Net Neutrality is such a big deal, why haven’t we run into similar issues with our electric company, our gas company, or our water company? Well, it’s because all of those are considered public utilities. Sure, you may only have one choice of electric or gas companies, but their prices, services and availability are all strictly managed by various government entities.
Broadband Internet providers do not suffer from the same restrictions. Although they use the telephone poles and cables that are often installed with taxpayer money, they claim exclusive use of them and have shown, time and time again, that they are willing to leverage that exclusivity to reach into your wallet while locking out their competition. Most attempts to regulate ISPs as a public utility (Also known as Title II) have failed miserably due to the stranglehold the cable lobby has over legislators on Capitol Hill.
This also means that competition is greatly stifled. Google Fiber, for example, is capable of providing fiber Internet (much, much faster than most residential plans in Colorado) for less money than you pay for your current plan. Unfortunately, Google has all but abandoned their plans for nationwide fiber due to the extremely restrictive legislation that allows ISPs to keep everyone else out of their ‘territory’. At its core, this is government-approved monopoly, and we are the ones paying the bill.
What Can be Done?
While the ISP monopoly seems airtight, it is ultimately up to each and every citizen to let their legislators know how they feel about Net Neutrality. Time and time again, the ‘lowly’ citizens of the Internet have stood up to the major ISPs, halting damaging legislation in it’s tracks. Just look at the protests over SOPA / PIPA and previous Net Neutrality battles.
Even if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeals Net Neutrality, we can push for state legislation to protect our local economy, our small businesses, our jobs and ultimately our freedom of choice.
July 12th is National Day of Action for Net Neutrality. Take the opportunity to post your thoughts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform using the #NetNeutrality and #NetNeutralityDayOfAction hashtags. Tag your representatives and senators on these posts. Tag Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC, who previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon fighting against people like you and me. Tag your friends and family and let them know these issues matter to you. The future of the Internet is in your hands now, more than ever, and the steps we take next will determine the future of a free and open Internet.