Net Neutrality: Why it matters to You

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photo credit: Sinistra Ecologia Libertà via photopin cc

If you just tuned in to the net neutrality debate, you might be asking yourself this question: “What is net neutrality and why should I care?” Maybe the whole thing is a lot of techno-babble. Maybe it just sounds really boring. Maybe you just don’t pay a lot of attention to the news. That’s understandable but I promise, net neutrality really is important.

What is net neutrality?

Right now, Internet traffic is all treated equally. This makes the Internet a wonderful place because it creates a level playing field–net neutrality.

Internet speeds are the same for everyone. However, cable companies like Verizon and Comcast want to change this. They want the ability to charge content providers (like Netflix) to get their content to the viewers faster. This means that the Internet would no longer be an even playing field because start-ups would suddenly be competing with big companies for faster Internet speeds.

There is a tremendous amount of support for keeping the Internet as it is now. Why fix what isn’t broken, right? This support comes from both the public and from tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Despite the public support, efforts are still underway to change the current system. Cable companies stand to make a lot of money if they are successful, which is why Verizon alone spent over $100 million since 2009 in lobbying efforts.

Why does net neutrality matter?

Nobody wins if cable companies are allowed to create a two-tiered system, except cable companies themselves, of course. Net neutrality will be lost. Small companies won’t be able to keep up. Large content providers will be forced to fork out a lot of cash to stay competitive. I’d also wager that it means the consumers will see a price bump. One of the great things about companies like Netflix is that they offer great content for a very low price. If net neutrality is lost and companies like Netflix see an increase in their expenses, they aren’t just going to take it all out of their profits: they will pass those expenses on to the consumer–you!

The net neutrality issue is reminiscent of the debate between the music industry and Napster. Back in those days, people would spend $20 on a CD because that was the only way to get access to great music. The record companies made millions and, in some ways, controlled the content. Only musicians lucky enough to get a record deal had much of chance at fame and fortune.

Then the age of Napster and illegal downloading arrived and changed the game. Napster ultimately lost the battle, but the music industry was never the same. People got tired of paying so much money for just one CD, so a beautiful thing happened: companies like Spotify, Beats Music, and Pandora arrived. Suddenly, people could listen to anything for free. The companies made money through advertisements. Other companies took a different approach and charged a monthly subscription fee that allowed unlimited access to any music, ad free. Even the subscription option cost less than the price of a CD and subscribers got access to as much music as they wanted. It was a much better deal. In effect, Napster created its own kind of net neutrality in the music business.

Today, we have a similar situation. We have a huge industry, the cable companies, that wants to squeeze money out of content providers by forcing them to pay for prioritization, just to remain competitive. This means that start-up companies are forced to compete with megacorporations, creating an impossible environment. Companies like Netflix will see an increase in their expenses, which likely means they will raise the subscription price or find some other way to pass the buck. This means people streaming content on the Internet will likely pay more. It endangers the affordable and convenient way people access the Internet.

If, despite the huge amount of public support for net neutrality, cable companies are allowed to charge for faster speeds, this will end net neutrality and will be another win for lobbyists and big money. It’s time to move forward, not back. It’s time to encourage innovation, convenience, and affordability, and a level playing field.

This is why net neutrality matters to you.

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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.

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