What Net Neutrality Is, And Why The FCC Decision Is A Potential Disaster

If you haven't had to think about net neutrality in any real way, it's because we have always enjoyed its benefits. Now, because of a Federal Communications Commission ruling, net neutrality seems to be ending in the United States.

But first things first. What is net neutrality?

This excellent explainer video was recorded before the FCC's ruling, which the New York Times summarized like so:

The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The truly scary thing is that we simply don't know what an internet without net neutrality looks like. This makes it hard to galvanize opposition.

This sets up a classic prisoners' dilemma. If every major internet content provider (Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, Hulu, Google, etc.) simply refuses to pay for faster speeds, than the pay for speed system falls apart. That's a nice concept, but it's not going to happen. All it takes is one provider to pay up for significantly faster speeds, and then everyone has to follow suit if they don't want to lose their market share.

So, what happens in reality? The billion dollar corporations will pay for speed. It's the scrappy startups we have to worry about. What if, say, someone wants to start a site for independent documentaries. They raise some funds to build the site and set up a streaming service (no small feat), and hire coders, curators, designers, etc.

The challenge of doing that already weeds out most of the people that would try, but now our hypothetical entrepreneur faces an additional challenge: paying off Comcast et al, so that their documentaries load at a reasonable time. Are you going to sit through a movie that keeps needing time to buffer when speedy Netflix is just a click away? Probably not.

Oh, and the mention in the Mashable video of an internet provider choking the streams of video sites in an attempt to drive people to their television service--there are rumors that Comcast already engages in these kinds of shenanigans. With the FCC ruling, they can do so openly and legally. 

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