Since the term was first coined in 2003, net neutrality has had a long and troubled history. The most recent FCC ruling in December 2017 seems to have laid the debate to rest, but at what cost?
Without these rules, the future of the Internet and technology itself could change.
For those who are new to the debate, the arguments can seem a little obscure. What does net neutrality mean and why does it matter to you?
We'll define net neutrality and explore the potential effects it has on the Internet. Finally, we'll take a look at what it means to customers like you.
In 2003, a professor at Columbia University defined what he called "net neutrality." At the time, telecommunications companies like Comcast and Verizon limited their customers' choice.
AT&T banned their customers from using Wi-Fi routers on their network. Other companies throttled connections for people using the program BitTorrent. Still, others banned the use of virtual private networks (VPNs).
Net neutrality means companies can't limit consumer choice this way. If someone pays for the service, they should be allowed to use the programs and devices they want.
Over time, ideas about net neutrality have continued to evolve. Today's net neutrality definition means Internet service providers can't throttle access. Net neutrality also means they can't charge more for faster speeds or access to sites.
Advocates of net neutrality say the policy keeps big ISPs in check. Without this policy, there will be a variety of negative effects on Internet use and access.
One concern is ISPs will charge companies a "toll" to keep their sites loading fast. Big companies like Google and Facebook can pay these fees, so their sites will load very quickly. Other, smaller companies can't pay these tolls.
Sites run by smaller companies will thus die off since they can't attract traffic. This could limit new innovations.
Imagine if YouTube had to pay "tolls" to keep videos loading when they first started out. We wouldn't have video streaming services like Netflix today.
Another concern is that ISPs may be able to limit the content their customers see and access. If company bosses support a political stance, they could speed up sites with that message. At the same time, they could slow down opponents' sites.
Another concern about the end of net neutrality is the price of Internet access. Advocates of net neutrality say companies could charge customers for faster Internet connections. Those who could afford to pay more would receive better Internet access.
This makes an already clear and growing "technology gap" worse. Affluent areas would likely receive better Internet service. Poorer areas would be stuck with slower connections.
For many people living in rural areas, this is already a reality. The end of net neutrality could make it worse. Fees for prioritized access and "fast lanes" would continue to climb.
Another argument for net neutrality is that a non-neutral net could look like the cable TV landscape. ISPs will group access to a limited menu of favorite websites into "bundles."
If you want access to Facebook, Google, YouTube, and two or three news sites, you'll need to buy one bundle. If you also want access to a sports website and the Wall Street Journal, you'll need to buy another bundle.
This isn't too far-fetched either. Some countries already have a similar model. These countries don't have net neutrality policies.
With the FCC voting to end net neutrality, many people wonder what the future of the Internet will look like.
With net neutrality explained, it's important to remember this policy didn't always exist. In fact, there was no such policy before 2005. The Bush-era FCC introduced the first net neutrality policy that year.
It didn't take long for ISPs to fight back, and they successfully sued the FCC over net neutrality. The 2005 rules were repealed in 2008.
New rules took effect in 2010. Another lawsuit in 2014 saw them reversed again.
The Obama Administration introduced the most recent set of rules in 2015. Internet service was classed a common carrier under the Communications Act. This made Internet service like landline telephone services.
By the end of 2017, the FCC had voted to repeal these rules. Internet services are no longer classed as common carriers.
Will net neutrality end once and for all? It's likely the back-and-forth between the FCC and ISPs will continue for some time yet.
A common carrier is an organization that offers a service to the general public for a fee. By contrast, contract carriers and private carriers can limit the number of clients. They can refuse service to anyone else.
A common carrier delivers the service "without discrimination." Since ISPs are no longer common carriers, they can discriminate through pricing. People who can afford to pay get the best service.
It's important to remember the Internet came about during an age when ISPs were private carriers. ISPs occasionally adopted restrictive policies, such as banning Wi-Fi routers. The lack of neutrality didn't hamper the growth of the Internet.
Today, the Internet has become more important. Lacking an Internet connection can cut people off from things like job opportunities. This is why many people believe net neutrality needs to exist.
Now we've answered the question, "what does net neutrality mean?" It's easy to see why Internet customers worry about the end of net neutrality. It could mean rising prices and less choice.
Consumers will continue to demand better Internet service. The more ingrained the Internet is in everyday life, the more important it is for everyone to have great access. This is true no matter where they live or which ISP they sign up with.
Are you looking for better Internet service in your area? Talk to us today and discover your options.