Net neutrality has created a lot of buzz over the past year. Generally speaking, net neutrality is the idea that the internet is free and open to anyone who has access.
But there's more to the current debates than that. We've compiled a few facts about net neutrality that will help you make sure you're up to speed on this hot-button issue.
Why are we talking about net neutrality?
Because there are only a few major companies that supply internet coverage to most of the US, those companies have a lot of power. That power stands to get a long stronger if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows those companies to charge customers more money for using more bandwidth.
Earlier this year, a federal court decided that the FCC's former regulations, which stated that companies were not allowed to manipulate or analyze their customers' data, overstepped the bounds of what the FCC can legally regulate.
The FCC is now drawing up new guidelines for regulating communications companies and how they treat internet consumers' data and usage. The new rules would allow those big companies to decide which websites internet users are allowed to access, and whether or not they will have to pay more money to access certain high-traffic websites.
So why is that a problem?
It means that you could end up spending more for internet if you enjoy using Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, last.fm, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It also means that your internet provider would have the right to stop you from using Facebook if you haven't specifically paid for it in your contract. Your internet provider could even prevent you from accessing Netflix because Netflix hasn't offered your provider the amount of money the provider wants in order for customers to be extended Netflix-using privileges.
Another scenario includes the speeding up or slowing down of access; say Pandora has paid the most money to your big internet communications provider, and last.fm has paid some money, but not as much as Pandora. Pandora users will have fantastic streaming service, but last.fm users would have spotty service, because their streams have been slowed down according to the amount of money last.fm paid the provider.
In essence, the internet would no longer be neutral. Content providers who can afford to cut deals with communications conglomerates would continue to have lots of people using their websites, but content providers who don't have the spending power could be cut off from their user base because they simply can't afford to compete.
But I use a local internet provider! How would that affect me?
Local internet providers often have to rely on the big communications companies to help them transfer data from its origin to its endpoint. If big companies don't want to have anything to do with YouTube, then local internet providers will have a very difficult time providing YouTube access to their customers.
Is there any hope left for a neural internet?
Yes, for now. The FCC is still writing its new internet rules. One way the FCC can prevent big communications providers from controlling what is and is not available to US internet users would be by changing the way it classifies those internet providers.
The current classification is information services. Because of this classification, the federal court ruled in January that the FCC cannot regulate internet providers, because that would mean regulating information. If the FCC reclassifies internet providers as telecommunications providers, the FCC will be able to regulate internet providers and stop them from controlling what you can access on the web.
Can I do anything?
You can weigh in by writing to your congressman or congresswoman and the FCC. You can also sign one of many online petitions to keep the internet open, such as the ones sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Rights, FreePress, and Google.