Odds are, you probably clicked on this article from some link on social media, or a Google search, or it was sent to you by a friend, or you found it while surfing around the Parents website. But what if you had to pay extra to get access to Facebook? Or if your internet provider throttled Google's powerful search so it was slow and made you use their own proprietary (and maybe lower quality) version? Or if, as parents, you had to pay extra for a kid-friendly internet suite of apps for your kids, along with the adult internet you want?
That's what could become a reality if the FCC rolls back its net neutrality rules, as recommended by its current chairman Ajit Pai (who was a former attorney for Verizon—an internet provider—before he was appointed by Trump).
What is net neutrality?
Basically, net neutrality boils down to this: Your internet provider (or wireless company, if you're surfing the web on a smartphone) is required to provide access to all of the internet, with no preferential treatment, to you. So it can't, for instance, slow down Netflix so it buffers badly, and ramp up the speed for its own video-on-demand service. And it can't charge more for you to access certain channels than others. Instead, it can charge you (as many do) by the amount of bandwidth you use, rather than what sites you want to access.
"Net neutral" also means these internet providers can't charge the websites you're accessing over the internet more to get faster load times, for instance. Those fees, net neutrality fans argue, could squash innovation, making it harder for small startups to break through against the tech giants.
Why should you care?
Countries like Portugal, which doesn't have net neutrality rules, have found that internet has become more expensive and more difficult to navigate—think of those cable bills with different packages. One provider in Portugal offers packages that lump together popular apps and services—but leave their competition out in the cold. Already, Comcast has changed its net neutrality statement on its website to remove language around paid prioritization, which critics worry means they're gearing up to start charging websites more to be delivered quickly through their service.
Why are some people against it?
People who are against net neutrality argue that decreased regulation of internet providers could result in new innovation and technology, and that some provisions that remain—such as requiring internet providers to fully disclose when they prioritize certain content or throttle other parts of the internet—will still serve the purpose.
What can anyone do?
This is where it gets really interesting. The FCC rulings are decided by a group of five people, who will be meeting on December 14th, 2017 to make their decision. After the plans were announced, they opened a website for comment. Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, who has taken on net neutrality as his cause celebre, created a site called gofccyourself.com, which made it easy for his viewers to comment—and they did. Millions of them, and they pulled the website down for a bit. (At the time this article was written, there were over 23 million comments on Net Neutrality, most in favor of keeping it.)
But there were also hundreds of thousands of fake comments added calling for an end to net neutrality, and people complained that their names and identifying information were used to make comments that they disagreed with. Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, has been investigating the fake comments—but the FCC itself has refused to cooperate with the investigation by providing any information about the alleged fake comments.
Of course, if the FCC does (as expected) repeal the net neutrality rules, it could get tied up in the courts for a while, as various groups—including public advocates and the lawyers for big-name companies like Google and Facebook—work to keep the internet free.