Net Neutrality and You

Net neutrality; that thing you probably heard a lot about in the news recently, but still don’t fully understand. So what is it? And why should you be concerned about it?
 To put it simply, Net Neutrality is the idea that everyone who has access to the internet has access to all of the same information; if you were to search for cats on the internet and your neighbor were to search for cats as well, you would be shown the same information. So why wouldn’t this be the case? Seems pretty simple that searching for cats would produce the same results, no? The problem lies with internet providers and what content they display. Lets go back to the cat example to show what happens when internet service companies can control what consumers see in their search results. Lets say that Internet Service A loves cats. All of their employees own cats and they even sponsor a bring your cat to work day once a month. When you search for cats with Service A, you’re bound to see fantastic results filled with great variety and choice because Service A is passionate about cats. Now lets say your neighbor has Internet Service B, and does the same search for cats. What we don’t know about Service B is that their company likes dogs, and thinks that having cats as pets should not be allowed. As a result, Service B decides that when someone searches for cats through their service, they’re going to leave out articles, information, and adorable pictures of cats, and maybe prioritize showing results on cats that aren’t domesticated, such as lions or tigers. This suits them better because of their anti-cat policy, and in turn hurts your neighbor who is just trying to brighten their day with a cat picture. However, with Net Neutrality, things like this cannot happen because all providers must display the same content.
 Although this issue may seem trivial when applied to cats and pictures of them on the internet, it becomes a real problem when large corporations exploit this with things that actually will have a large impact on the average consumer. If someone is hungry and wants to grab a bite to eat but doesn’t know where to go, they may jump on the internet and do a search for nearby restaurants. Without Net Neutrality, if McDonalds and Comcast have a deal, Comcast may only show results for where there are McDonalds locations even though someone is searching under the much broader term “food.” Most recently, Federal Courts have ruled in favor of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) who was defending the consumer and Net Neutrality. Many companies sued the FCC, saying that enforcing Net Neutrality violated their first amendment free speech rights to display what they felt was most appropriate. The Courts, however, disagreed, saying that because the service providers were only relaying information and not creating it, their rights were not violated. 
 As it stands today, all internet providers, whether through phone service or home and business use services, must display information the same to protect the consumer.However, the debate is ongoing. Many companies that sued the FCC are unhappy with the decision and plan to pursue further legal action. Some are also arguing that this ruling gives the FCC too much power over internet providers, allowing them to make decisions that impede the rights of the companies. Only time will tell if this is the case, or if there will be more court proceedings on the issue, but until then Net Neutrality is here to stay.

(Image taken from creative commons website Pexels.com)

For more information on Net Neutrality, and to see where I found my information, check out these helpful links:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/15/the-net-neutrality-court-decision-in-plain-english/
https://www.whitehouse.gov/net-neutrality

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