Why Net Neutrality Matters to Web Professionals

    Jeff Smith

    This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

    What is Net Neutrality

    Net neutrality is now a buzzword-quality term, bandied about by many, but perhaps not paid any real attention by more than a few. The concept of net neutrality is a fairly simple one at its core. It’s the idea that the governments who create rules and regulations for Internet access within a given country, or the companies providing Internet services, will not discriminate Internet traffic.

    That is, your provider will not charge you differently for access to Netflix, for example, or throttle your bandwidth to slow your speeds when accessing Hulu. They won’t discriminate in cost or speed of access between the websites or services you’re using, or in any way limit your Internet browsing experience. Some people are staunchly for net neutrality as a principle; others are against it. Those against it are often ISPs and companies that might benefit from a lack of it, and they often use false flag arguments (we could give you faster streaming, we could help protect the Internet from bad actors, etc) to sell their point.

    Note that this isn’t theory – prior to the 2015 rulings, Netflix was forced into paying multiple communications providers to not have throttled traffic on their networks.

    The reality is that an Internet completely without Net Neutrality rules is one that only favors the large communications providers, and select other corporations. Imagine the money that could be made by extorting large companies into deals to favor their network traffic, or the fees that might have to be paid by small businesses to make it past a bandwidth limitation imposed by ISPs. The possibilities are endless for the broadband providers, and endlessly frustrating to the consumer — the everyday citizen of the Internet, who will have no say in this matter.

    The History of Net Neutrality

    Net Neutrality has been, for the most part, the status quo in the United States, with the 2015 FCC rules declaring that broadband Internet providers fall under Title II of the Communications Act. This means that ISPs are now able to be governed as common carriers, and FCC rules could stop those ISPs from throttling or favoring traffic in their lines — forcing ISPs to treat users’ broadband connections as “dumb pipes” through which data flows, rather than attempting to regulate what does and does not appear on your device, and how quickly.

    These moves by the FCC have been seen as excessive government regulation by some, especially by those ISPs in question, but the majority of the public on either end of the political spectrum, when the issue is explained to them, seem to favor net neutrality.

    Recent Events Involving Net Neutrality

    The new leadership of the FCC, however, has voted to begin the process of ending the FCC net neutrality rules and de-classifying ISPs as common carriers. This move will end the net neutrality rules that have kept the large broadband providers in check in recent years. You can read the FCC’s public stance here.

    There is now a public comment period, where individuals and organizations alike may submit comments, questions, and essentially drum up support, but in the end, a decision will be made, and it seems dubious that the current FCC leadership will protect net neutrality.

    The Importance of the Discussion

    So what does it matter for you? Web professionals of all walks of life – developers, designers, copywriters, server administrators, marketers, and many more niches will be affected by the lack of net neutrality rules. What will happen when you build an application, and pour your (and perhaps your team’s) blood, sweat, and tears into it, draining savings, credit, hawking for funding perhaps, and you finally launch your app, only to find that some of your users or potential users cannot reach your app?

    What if your users must deal with slower speeds when using your app, and you lose some of them because of it? What if they have to pay fees to access your site? If your app competes with an app created by some subsidiary of a big communications company and, as a result, what if yours has its speeds throttled or is denied traffic? You can do very little to nothing about your users’ personal access to the Internet.

    These are troubles that you would never have to deal with, if your users had access to an open pipe, without discrimination.

    What Can You Do

    Comments on the issue are due to the FCC by July 17, 2017. This will be a slow process either way, but if you want your voice to be heard, you can contact members of Congress or the FCC. Here are a few options for making your voice heard:

    • Reach out. Here’s an organization bent on helping people reach their representatives
    • Put your money where your mouth is. Ensure that, when possible, the vendors you choose to work with are pro net neutrality (like our partner, SiteGround) or at minimum, that the places you shop and services you use are not part of the opposition.
    • If you are part of a larger website or app, you can take part in the July 12 2017 Day of Action, when sites around the world will spread the word about net neutrality to their users.

    And don’t think that these efforts are just for Americans. Those who don’t live in the U.S. will still deal with the ripple effects of the battle there, and many countries are already grappling with the same issues, if they haven’t already lost the fight. Have any thoughts? Let us know in the comments.