Net Neutrality

I know, I know. You keep hearing this term (if in case you really have heard it)  and wonder what it really means. I’ve been following the story for five years now, and sometimes I still wonder myself. Is it something that could really end up affecting what I see or can’t see on the Web, or is it just a buzzword that geeks, policy wonks, and politicians like to throw around at parties? Well, it’s really both.

Here I’ve put together a list of basic questions about Net neutrality that, if taken as directed, can help you swim through the spin and hype around the topic. It’ll also help you understand in jargon-free terms what’s being debated now, and how the possible outcomes of the debate could change the Web forever.

Q: What is Net neutrality?

A: At the very simplest level, the term “Net neutrality” is accepted shorthand for the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t be allowed to block, degrade, or charge extra for legal content and applications that run on the Net–an idea that has pretty much been the standard operating procedure since the Internet’s start, but one that has never been codified into enforceable law.

Q: Why should I care?

A: In its most egregious forms, Net neutrality violations could keep you from accessing content or services you have legally paid for–as in the very first known violation, when a regional service provider blocked users from the Vonage Voice over IP service, or the most recent one, when Comcast used questionable management practices to keep some broadband users from downloading content. While it’s true that most Net neutrality violations are either unknown or still theoretical, consumer advocates who favor Net neutrality regulations say they are needed to ensure that service providers don’t use their market strength to turn the Internet into a place where they can charge both customers and content and application providers premium fees to connect to each other.

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