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Net Neutrality: What You Need To Know

Net Neutrality: What You Need To Know

The Federal Communications Commission, which is led by Tom Wheeler (appointed by President Barack Obama two years ago in 2013), will be voting this week on critical Internet regulations after one year of intense deliberation. 


No doubt, a lot of people are following each development of the net neutrality debate. But there is no denying that even in the Information age, many people still have no idea what net neutrality is or how it will affect everyone's lives. For the benefit of those who remain blissfully ignorant, we are presenting this primer.


What Net Neutrality Is


Basically, it is the idea that all kinds of Internet traffic should be subject to equal treatment. Whether you are watching YouTube videos, checking tweets on Twitter, or looking for a match through Tinder, all the data that is travelling through the web should be treated the same. Based on that principle, providers of Internet services, whether they be broadband (Comcast) or wireless (Verizon), should not be able to slow down or even block Internet access. It also means that Internet service providers should not be able to charge certain users (whether they be people or companies) for priority or speedier Internet connections.


The Significance Of Net Neutrality


With net neutrality put in place, everyone basically has equal access to the Internet. It does not matter if you are a Fortune 500 company or just an average Joe -- you can make use of the Internet just as equally as anybody or any entity in the planet.


Why The Upcoming Vote Matters


The Internet as we know it has been operating on a basic principle of equal use for as long as we can remember. But over the last few months, Internet service providers (we are looking at you, Big Red) have been proposing this idea of having fast lanes and toll takers in the information superhighway. 


The greatest thing about the Internet is that it is open to everyone -- anybody can enjoy it and make use of it without any need for special privileges. Some of the things we take for granted today -- like Google or Facebook -- have been made possible because of the open nature of the interwebs. And now, certain Internet service providers are trying to bend some rules and having people pay more for specific Internet connection perks. This is why we now need more rigid rules so that net neutrality can continue to exist in the Internet.


What Happens If There Were No New Rules


The Internet could turn into something like cable TV today. The service providers would decide which websites or types of content you can browse or view. If you want to have more or faster access, the service providers would have you pay more. 


By having stronger net neutrality rules, we could maintain the Internet's open nature, and not have to mull over paying a few more bucks in order to tweet more tweets, or view more YouTube videos. 


What Exactly Is Title II?


This refers to the Title II section of the 1934 Communications Act. Under Title II, telecommunications services are considered as services that should be open to everyone, hence the term "common carrier." Today's net neutrality debate revolves around whether or not the federal government should re-classify broadband as a common carrier, something which everybody should have equal access to.


Some opposed the FCC's move to reclassify broadband as a Title II service because it might stifle innovation and hinder growth. Others fear that the FCC might set prices (not to mention impose new taxes) or even force Internet companies to share their networks or infrastructure with rival service providers. Of course, the FCC has been on record saying that those fears are unfounded. 


What Happens After The Vote


If the FCC votes to have broadband re-classified, major Internet service providers will be sure to challenge it via lawsuits. And the battle will not end there. Republicans are making a move to codify the basic net neutrality rules and strip the FCC of any power with regards to regulating the Internet. Of course, this will have to pass through President Obama, who just happens to be a strong advocate of the FCC's approach to net neutrality


Whatever will happen come February 26th, it will surely have repercussions on Internet users everywhere, and maybe even their children, too.