It’s easy to take the internet for granted. Sure, we might sometimes forget just how important a role it plays in society. Not all of the internet is serious and that’s part of its charm.
The silly side of the internet, embodied by memes and cat videos, means we don’t always appreciate the remarkable importance the net has in terms of creating a fair marketplace for businesses and ideas.
Its neutrality as a platform is something that makes the internet different from much of the real world.
If you have the skills, the idea and the knowhow, there’s no reason that your website cannot compete with much larger, more established brands.
There’s no supermarket chain undercutting you through wholesalers. No buying in bulk. No way for bigger companies to essentially bulldoze smaller competition out of their way.
Or at least, that’s how it is for now.
So, what is net neutrality?
If you’ve been browsing around news sites and social media lately, you’ve likely heard something about net neutrality and how it is under threat.
In the hyperbolic modern day of click bait and 24-hour news, it’s easy to dismiss the dire warnings as simple scaremongering.
Unfortunately, in this case, the headlines are very much accurate.
If you aren’t already aware, net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers must treat everybody’s data equally. This means that, whether you’re a transnational corporation worth billions of dollars or just someone with a humble food blog, your data will be treated as of equal importance.
Without net neutrality, it would be possible for big companies to pay internet service providers in order to get data faster: effectively shutting down smaller sites by slowing their service to the point of being unable to compete.
Think for a moment about the long term consequences of what that means.
If you’re someone running a small business that operates almost entirely on the internet, then its immediate effects are a blunt instrument that could land the finishing strike on your start up.
We probably don’t need to be telling you all this if that is the case. You’re probably already acutely aware of the dangers this presents.
However, what if you’re not a business owner or someone working for a small to medium sized business that might be affected by these changes?
What impact could this have on you?
On a basic consumer level, it will almost certainly mean that the internet is a less interesting place.
A system that overwhelmingly favours already established businesses is certain to stifle creativity and innovation. Who knows what amazing ideas will be quite literally slowed to a halt if net neutrality becomes a thing of the past.
Furthermore, this monopolisation could lead to long term economic issues. Innovation is the driving force behind much of any developed country’s wealth. Therefore, something that actively puts stumbling blocks in front of new, challenging ideas can only lead down a dark economic path.
And the threat of that change is coming. Right now.
Only a couple of days ago, protests raged across Washington against an FCC vote, fronted by new president Ajit Pai. This aims to overturn a 2015 vote, which put into law the principles of net neutrality. The final vote on this matter will be conducted at the end of this year.
The time in which members of the public are allowed to comment comes to the end of its 90-day period on the 17th July. If you want to have your say and you’re from the US, do it now before it is too late.
After that date, the public will be plunged into uncertainty when it comes to the future of the internet.
However, what is not in doubt is that overturning net neutrality will lead to a less fair, less fun, less creative and less exciting online world than the one we enjoy today.