What Is Net Neutrality? Here's the Simple Explanation You've Been Looking For

 
 

"What's net neutrality?"

It's OK if you're not 100-percent sure. Net neutrality is technical, a bit abstract, and increasingly politicized. It's no wonder why so many Americans still aren't clear on whether net neutrality is in their best interest.

America's Internet is here to help. We've put together a simple, straightforward video and article that illustrates once and for all:

What is net neutrality and why is important?

Net Neutrality DEFINED

Net neutrality is ultimately a term that describes a broader set of principles about how the Internet should function and how it should be governed. Basically, net neutrality means that the Internet should be:

  • Free and open
  • Remain uncensored
  • Free of slow and fast lanes created for different types of traffic

The term itself was coined by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu in 2003, but the principles of net neutrality go back much further and are the real key to understanding the concept.

 
Tim_wu_std.jpg

"Net neutrality is the principle that the service providers who control or access, who own the pipes, should not favor some content over another."

-Tim Wu

 

These principles are known as common carrier principles, which also happen to be the backbone of every public utility we enjoy today, from electricity to water to natural gas.

Real quick... let's go back ~350 years to explore the roots of net neutrality and see why it's so important to all of our future.

Why The Internet is Like a Sea Port

The year is 1670.

The setting is England.

For the first time in the history of the world, people were demanding civil rights for anyone other than royalty and the religious were becoming a thing.

It's here where one of the first precedents for common carrier laws were established when a judge by the name of Lord Chief Justice Hale ruled how seaports should adhere to the following tenants because of overlapping rights of the port owners and the public they served:

  • They ought to be free and open for subjects and foreigners, to come and go with their merchandise
  • There ought to be no new tolls or charges imposed upon them without sufficient warrant, nor the old inhanced
  • They ought to be preserved from impediments and nusances, that may hinder or annoy the access or abode or recess of ships, and vessels, and seamen, or the unlading or relading of goods.
 
 Sir Matthew Hale rocking his seventeenth century logic and a ravishing  red robe.

Sir Matthew Hale rocking his seventeenth century logic and a ravishing  red robe.

 

In other words, Hale said that seaports must be:

  • Free and open
  • Remain uncensored
  • Free of slow and fast lanes created for different types of traffic

Weird. These are the same exact arguments that people make for net neutrality today.

Is it a coincidence? Hardly.

It's simply what happens when an industry becomes a public utility within a society.

net neutrality = The Internet Is a public utility

Proponents of net neutrality want Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat the Internet like a pipe and not tamper with anything that flows through it. That's what it means to be a common carrier.

And just like with English seaports, the companies and entities that provide public utilities all share these common carrier principles.

When you go to the gas station, you know you're getting gasoline because there is a federal regulatory agency that enforces a standard.

When you pay your electricity bill, every watt you consume is metered and the price your power company can charge you is set by a government agency. 

When you travel across this great country using our Interstate road ways, you are enjoying the benefits of a literal common carrier. 

No one likes when a government becomes overbearing and oppressive, but most of us can agree that it's generally a good thing that we can (mostly) rely on clean drinking water.

There's only one remaining question then.

Has the Internet become a public utility?

What Is Net Neutrality To Americans?

Now, if you are one of the hundreds of millions of Americans who learn, work, and play on the Internet, you may already understand that the Internet is a public utility.

But some people we've talked to, however, don't agree. There are definitely some who insist that the Internet is a luxury in today's society and we have to respect that opinion.

That said, here's one of the best arguments for why the Internet should be considered a public utility:

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai himself calls it a utility.

Yep, the same guy who led the dismantling of net neutrality in 2015 recently tweeted how brilliant it is deliver the Internet via public utility phone lines.

So there you have it.

We've defined net neutrality.

We've uncovered its roots. 

We've underscored its importance. What else is there left to do?

  1. Call your members of Congress and tell them you care about net neutrality
  2. Share this article
  3. Sign up to become an advocate for America's Internet
  4. Donate to America's Internet so we can help get elected a Congress who will pass permanent net neutrality legislation that is in the best interest of the American people