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What Is Net Neutrality? Why It’s Important And How It’s at Risk

What Is Net Neutrality? Why It’s
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* FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to roll back net neutrality rules
* New regulations could give ISPs power to choose which sites to help and which to block
* Google, Amazon, Netflix and others have started fighting back

When the internet first went public in 1991, it did so with freedom in mind. Having a free and open internet, one where people can search without having to deal with internet restrictions or censorship, is the cornerstone of net neutrality.

Now, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to roll back net neutrality rules, the way we use the internet could change.

The basic belief behind net neutrality is that internet service providers (ISPs) give the same access to every site on the web. So whether you visit a popular site like Facebook or a small neighborhood business, the loading speeds are the same.

Pai hopes to change that. Instead of regulating net neutrality through the FCC, he intends to put the power in the hands of ISPs themselves.

This raises issues on multiple levels: first, because it eases restrictions on ISPs and gives them the power to choose which sites to allocate more bandwidth to and which to slow down; second, because it gives them the ability to block pages that don’t adhere to their rules or company beliefs; and third, because it essentially cripples innovation and makes it much harder for smaller sites and services to gain an equal footing in the online marketplace.  

Here’s an example of how this could affect both businesses and customers. Under these eased restrictions, your ISP could choose to give Netflix more bandwidth and slow down Hulu’s streaming speeds. Customers would then ditch Hulu and flock to Netflix, giving both the ISP and Netflix more power, more money, and perhaps most importantly, more influence.

Now, websites are also fighting back. In a closed meeting earlier this week, a joint lobbying group representing Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants met with Pai and pushed back against these purposed de-regulations, arguing they would both hurt businesses and customers.

The Internet Association, a Washington-based lobbying group, had some choice words too: “The internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition and innovation online,” it said. “In other words, existing net neutrality rules should be enforced and kept intact.”

With so much opposition, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.