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Over the past several weeks, you've been hearing a lot about net neutrality and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. You know it's a major issue and that people are upset about it, but you're hesitant to talk about it in conversation because you're not entirely sure you have a firm grasp on the subject. Luckily, net neutrality is a relatively easy concept to understand, once you take out all of the tech jargon. So here's what you need to know about net neutrality, what it means for you and the rest of the population.
Net neutrality is the idea that everyone has equal footing and equal opportunity on the internet. For example, with net neutrality rules in place, your personal website would theoretically have the same chance of showing up in a search as anyone else's. The net neutrality repeal, which was decided by the FCC on December 14, takes away that sense of equality.
Repealing net neutrality has outraged millions of citizens. Even some state attorney generals are still trying to fight against it.
So, why is this such a huge controversy? Well, imagine you own a small business. You want to advertise and provide access to your small business on the internet so more people notice you and buy from you. However, there are other businesses in your same industry that have more money. With net neutrality repealed, your small business will lose patronage because a company larger than yours has the ability to buy you out of the equation. In a nutshell, what you need to know about net neutrality is that it gives people with deeper pockets the upper hand.
You know how ticked off you get when your internet slows down? Well with net neutrality repealed, that's about to happen a whole lot more. See, when someone with great financial resources can pay internet service providers more money, what they get in return is high speed, high-functioning internet.
ISPs will give the quickest speed and the most visibility to the highest bidders, meaning that if you want to be noticed online, you'll need to pay up. When net neutrality rules dominated the internet, this was not the case.
Big Businesses Get Bigger
Repealing net neutrality is like the digital version of the economic inequality issue the United States has been arguing over for the past several years. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, right? The same idea goes for the internet: Big businesses get more consumers and smaller enterprises get fewer. What you need to know about net neutrality is that it perpetuates the same kind of economic disparity we've been talking about when we mention "the one percent."
Individuals Get Smaller
One of the big reasons people love the internet is that they feel like they have just as much of a voice as anyone else there. The internet is a place where you can make yourself heard and discover new things—music, artists, books, games, and even other people. But if you're an individual or a small collective trying to make your way in the world after the repeal of net neutrality, that journey is about to get a hell of a lot harder for you.
If you can't pay for optimal internet service, you will have a sub-par online experience—it's that simple. If you're an up-and-coming musical artist, for example, having your music reach new ears will become increasingly difficult.
Unbalanced Information Access
The easiest way to explain what you need to know about net neutrality is by breaking the phrase down. The very definition of "neutrality" is that no one thing is favored over another. By taking neutrality out of the internet, there is an automatic imbalance that occurs.
Suddenly, when you're searching for something online, you will be driven toward certain companies, voices, and opinions instead of others.
Limited Information Access
Because of this imbalance, the information you will have access to will be limited to those who can pay the most money for their position. For example, if Fox News can give ISPs more money than MSNBC can, you will more likely end up clicking on Fox News articles. Therefore, your world view will be more actively shaped by one source than another.
As you could imagine, this kind of imbalance sets the stage for some big power struggles. One potentially significant example would be a conflict between a political policy and its dissenters.
When President Trump first moved to initiate the Travel Ban, many activist groups took to the internet to fight against it. They depended on the internet to reach and attract people to their cause. But if there had been no net neutrality and websites favoring the Travel Ban had more funds to send to ISPs at the time, those activist groups may not have made as much of an impact.
So it's not just about the internet, it's about real life issues. That is perhaps the most crucial aspect of what you need to know about net neutrality.
More Opportunity for Propaganda
Whoever has the most prominent voice will have the most attention and active followers. That's the way history has worked and that's the way human behavior works. Now, what is it called when one person or group manipulates the kind of information everyday folks get? Propaganda.
The mention of propaganda may set off the conspiracy theory alarm in your head, but hold on a second. If certain channels on the internet can deliver their information faster and more reliably than others, those are the ones that are going to get the most attention. Whoever has the money to back their ideas online can more easily disseminate them. That is a manipulation of the flow of information, which can easily become a major problem.
What all of this boils down to for many people is the right to free speech promised to U.S. citizens. If you can't afford to pay for your words, you don't really get to say them. That is why so many government officials are involving themselves in this issue: It can be construed as a violation of The Constitution if the government were to use it to their advantage. When you look at it from that angle, what you need to know about net neutrality is that it's not just an infringement of internet freedom, but of freedom of speech in general.