Net Neutrality 101

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What is Network Neutrality?

Network Neutrality — or “Net Neutrality” for short — is the guiding principle that preserves a free and open Internet.

Put simply, Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.
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Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It protects the consumer’s right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.

Who wants to get rid of Net Neutrality?

The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.

The big phone and cable companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to gut Net Neutrality, putting the future of the Internet at risk.

Is Net Neutrality a new regulation?

Absolutely not. Net Neutrality has been part of the Internet since its inception. Pioneers like Vinton Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, always intended the Internet to be a neutral network. And “non-discrimination” provisions like Net Neutrality have governed the nation’s communications networks since the 1930s.

But as a consequence of a 2005 decision by the Federal Communications Commission, Net Neutrality — the foundation of the free and open Internet — was put in jeopardy. Now cable and phone company lobbyists are pushing to block legislation that would reinstate Net Neutrality.

Writing Net Neutrality into law would preserve the freedoms we currently enjoy on the Internet. For all their talk about “deregulation,” the cable and telephone giants don’t want real competition. They want special rules written in their favor.

Isn’t the threat to Net Neutrality just hypothetical?

No. By far the most significant evidence regarding the network owners’ plans to discriminate is their stated intent to do so.

The CEOs of all the largest telecom companies have made clear their intent to build a tiered Internet with faster service for the select few companies willing or able to pay the exorbitant tolls. Network Neutrality advocates are not imagining a doomsday scenario. We are taking the telecom execs at their word.

So far, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. But numerous examples show that without network neutrality requirements, Internet service providers will discriminate against content and competing services they don’t like. This type of censorship will become the norm unless we act now. Given the chance, these gatekeepers will consistently put their own interests before the public good.

The cable and telephone companies already dominate 98 percent of the broadband access market. And when the network owners start abusing their control of the pipes, there will be nowhere else for consumers to turn.

Isn’t this just a battle between giant corporations?

No. Our opponents would like to paint this debate as a clash of corporate titans. But the real story is the millions of everyday people fighting for their Internet freedom.

Small business owners benefit from an Internet that allows them to compete directly — not one where they can’t afford the price of entry. Net Neutrality ensures that innovators can start small and dream big about being the next EBay or Google without facing insurmountable hurdles. Without Net Neutrality, startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay for a top spot on the Web.

If Congress turns the Internet over to the telephone and cable giants, everyone who uses the Internet will be affected. Connecting to your office could take longer if you don’t purchase your carrier’s preferred applications. Sending family photos and videos could slow to a crawl. Web pages you always use for online banking, access to health care information, planning a trip, or communicating with friends and family could fall victim to pay-for-speed schemes.

Independent voices and political groups are especially vulnerable. Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips, silencing bloggers and amplifying the big media companies. Political organizing could be slowed by the handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups or candidates to pay a fee to join the “fast lane.”

What else are the phone and cable companies not telling the truth about?

AT&T and others have funded a massive misinformation campaign, filled with deceptive advertising and “Astroturf” groups like Hands Off the Internet and ConnectedNation.org.

What’s at stake if we lose Net Neutrality?

The consequences of a world without Net Neutrality would be devastating. Innovation would be stifled, competition limited, and access to information restricted. Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporate executives.

On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control — deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There’s no middleman. But without Net Neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu.

The free and open Internet brings with it the revolutionary possibility that any Internet site could have the reach of a TV or radio station. The loss of Net Neutrality would end this unparalleled opportunity for freedom of expression.

The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit. Without Net Neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms. The choice we face now is whether we can choose the content and services we want, or whether the broadband barons will choose for us.

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