Net neutrality is an incredibly important issue, but it’s hard to know what to pay attention to when people throw around jargon like “common carriers” and “reclassification.” It doesn’t help that people who tend to be united in their reaction — everyone from techno-libertarians to VCs – seem divided about the gutting of the FCC’s net neutrality rules this week.
While it’s true the issues around net neutrality aren’t black and white, we’ve got a rundown of three risks and unintended consequences of the recent ruling you should be aware of, regardless of the nuances or your politics.
But first, you need to know at least this much: Simply put, net neutrality is the principle (it never was a law) that the pipes carrying our information online should be “dumb” — just like our phone lines. If the pipes are too smart, the ISPs that provide them could discriminate or prioritize some content, websites, apps, or users over others. That means, for example, Comcast could slow down BitTorrent traffic (it did) or Liberty Media could charge Netflix more for using more network capacity (it’s already said it wants to). And so on…
1. No matter how things play out with net neutrality, the outcome is likely to hurt the poor.
It seems like everyone is talking about net neutrality’s impact on companies, especially startups (more so than on entrenched companies). But it affects libraries, too. Without net neutrality, argues American Library Association head Barbara Stripling, we’re in danger of prioritizing high-quality internet access for entertainment over education. By allowing ISPs to preferentially charge premiums and tier access, resource-constrained public libraries — and especially the communities they serve — will be the ones to lose. Ultimately, “pay to play” only benefits the privileged.