Why you should care about net neutrality

The soporific name is enough to induce disinterest, but net neutrality is a topic that should concern everyone who believes in the open internet. Yesterday, visitors to major websites like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter saw messages about the future of the internet, with the much-reviled loading icon serving as a sort of mascot. It was all part of “net neutrality day of action,” a last ditch effort to raise awareness and encourage comments to the Federal Communications Commission, which will decide the future of the issue.

In the simplest terms, net neutrality rules prohibit internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from blocking websites, slowing them down, or striking deals with companies to provide them with premium services.

Under Obama, the FCC reclassified internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and imposed strict net neutrality rules on internet service providers classifying them as utilities, which basically means that all internet content must be treated the same in the way it is delivered to broadband customers.

But new Federal Communications Commision Chairman Ajit Pai wants to roll back those rules, leaving ISP providers to regulate themselves. Pai and his supporters argue that the regulation is slowing investment in broadband development, and that the reigns need to be loosened to spur competition. There is some data that supports the idea that investment is slowing, but a recent USA Today study shows that blaming net neutrality rules for that situation is an oversimplification.

For media consumers, the loss of net neutrality could affect which websites they access and the speed with which those sites load, creating a have and have not dichotomy that would likely damage smaller publishers. The winners in this scenario would be major companies that could afford to strike deals with the ISPs, and, of course, the ISPs themselves. As Nilay Patel writes in an excellent and comprehensive overview of the issue for The Verge, “Rolling back Title II is a massive corporate handout that will line the pockets of Comcast and AT&T, while doing nothing for the average American.

Below, more on the day of action and what’s next for net neutrality.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.

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