Imagine: You go to access one of your favorite websites and instead of watching it load in a second or two, you wonder if you’re back in the days of dial-up Internet access (remember when you could make a cup of coffee while a page loaded?). It turns out, your favorite website is a “non-preferred destination” according to your Internet service provider – whether this ISP is Time Warner Cable, Verizon or one of the other phone and cable companies that carries Internet signals into your home.
Then the next day, you try logging into another site you like, and you get a message: “This site’s content has been deemed inappropriate.” Your ISP is banning websites?!?
What Happened to the Web
Those are among the scenarios that web watchdogs have been warning about ever since a federal appeals court’s ruling two weeks ago that struck down what’s call “net neutrality” – the principal that Internet service providers are simply providing pipelines and should be neutral when it comes to how they deliver websites to us through those pipelines. Until the ruling, which involved Verizon, net neutrality was protected under the FCC’s Open Internet order.
Net neutrality is at the heart of what we think of as the free and democratic web – which is why, in the two weeks since the January 14 ruling in favor of Verizon, dozens of organizations have collected more than a million online signatures for a petition that was delivered to FCC last week.
Watch this “Net Neutrality 101” video to get a bigger picture:
Not everyone agrees that the court decision in favor of Verizon spells doom. Jonathan Feldman writing in Information Week argues for the free market and says too much regulation could drag down the Internet. He believes that prioritizing some traffic over others could be a good thing.
Why Would You Care?
Here are a few reasons being cited by advocates for the open Internet:
- Discrimination Right now your tiny personal blog can up against Fox News or any other Internet giant on a level playing field – theoretically at least; the companies that provide your Internet signal don’t discriminate. When you search Google, the results you get have nothing to do with which website has more money or more political clout. Feasibly, a site that an ISP considers politically questionable could even be blocked (think China). The core democratic principles of the web could change with the end of neutrality.
- Bad service, degraded sites Unless you only visit the websites of large corporate players, you could find yourself having to deal with slow-loading webpages, fewer images and less video when you’re browsing smaller sites like, say, Senior Planet. That’s because sites that occupy what would become the web’s “slow lane” will be served with a weaker signal; those sites will try and lighten their load time by changing how they publish.
- Costlier browsing Right now it doesn’t matter what you do on the web – you could stream video, shop online or just check your email and you pay the same. With the end of neutrality, you’ll probably end up paying – or paying more – to access websites like YouTube or news outlets, because the the sites’ publishers will be paying your ISP to get in the fast lane; of course they’ll want to pass the cost on to you.
- Death to innovators If big corporations can pay to take over the Internet’s “fast lane,” small startups – as sites like Facebook and eBay were once – get stuck in the slow lane, where the chance of them finding an audience to support their growth is slim. “On a tiered Internet controlled by the phone and cable companies, only their own content and services — or those offered by corporate partners that pony up enough “protection money” — will enjoy life in the fast lane,” Free Press says.
- A widening Internet divide Sites that serve the underserved – including children and seniors – might not survive the end of neutrality. ZeroDivide President and CEO Tessie Guillermo told ABC News: “A child in a rural area who loses the ability to video conference with her physician specialist, a single dad who can no longer take his online college courses or a community media outlet in the inner city that is charged more to distribute its news – these are real losses.”
What You Can Do
More than 85 organizations, including the ACLU, MoveOn, the Sierra Club and Free Press, delivered a million signatures for net neutrality on January 30, emphasizing that the Internet is now a basic need for all of us – it’s not a luxury.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all over. The petition is still collecting new signatures and the situation keeps evolving. If you want to be involved in protecting what is, after all, your Internet, here’s what you can do:
- Consider signing the petition for net neutrality. Click here to visit the petition page; signing is very easy. You can also sign a petition on the WhiteHouse.gov We the People site if you have an account there.
- Follow SavetheInternet on Facebook to stay updated on the news.
- Sign up for ACLU breaking news alerts on the issue via email.
- Check out this post on the discussion site Reddit for ways to take the next step: pressuring congress.
According to Mashable: “The only way we are going to win this long-term fight is by showing the FCC how much support there is around the country from regular people.”
Maybe a visit from a large group of concerned seniors would be convincing?
Motivated or not? Share your views below!