‘First amendment of the internet’: what is net neutrality and why is it at risk?
Companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon will band together on 12 July to raise awareness about a threat to the open internet. So what’s the big deal?
By Olivia Solon in San Francisco
Jul 11 2017
Around 200 internet companies and activist groups are coming together this week to mobilize their users into opposing US government plans to scrap net neutrality protections.
The internet-wide day of action, scheduled for Wednesday 12 July, will see companies including Facebook, Google, Amazon, Vimeo, Spotify, Reddit and Pornhub notify their users that net neutrality – a founding principle of the open internet – is under attack. This is because the Trump administration is trying to overturn Obama-era regulation that protected net neutrality and there is less than a week left for people to object.
Like when the internet came together in a blackout to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in 2012, many websites will on Wednesday feature a prominent message on their homepage showing visitors what the web would look like without net neutrality and urging them to contact Congress. But what exactly is net neutrality, why is it under threat and what can individuals do to protect it?
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyone’s data equally, whether that’s an email from your mother, a bank transfer, or a streamed episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. It means that ISPs don’t get to choose which data is sent more quickly and which sites get blocked or throttled (for example slowing the delivery of a TV show because it is streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP) and who has to pay extra. For this reason some have described net neutrality as the “first amendment of the internet”.
“Net neutrality is basically the principle that keeps the internet open. Without it big cable companies will be able to slow down certain websites and pick winners and losers on the internet,” said Mark Stanley from Demand Progress, one of the activist groups organizing the day of action.
What is the difference between an ISP and a content provider?
ISPs provide you with access to the internet and include companies such as Verizon, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, CenturyLink and Cox. Content companies include Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. In some cases ISPs are also content providers, for example Comcast owns NBCUniversal and delivers TV shows through its Xfinity internet service.
Why is net neutrality under threat?
In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to more strictly regulate internet service providers (ISPs) and to enshrine the principles of “net neutrality” as law.
The vote reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers as Title II “common carriers”, a public utility-type designation that gives the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors and more closely regulate the industry.