For readers who frequently utilize the Internet, the national debate on “net neutrality” is an important one to follow. The term refers to the principle of having all Internet traffic treated equally by the government and Internet Service Providers, or ISPs.
Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is in debate over rules for ISPs which would either compromise or uphold net neutrality. Followers of the debate need to understand how Internet data transmission works.
The information Internet users want to access is stored on computers called servers, which can only handle a certain amount of Internet traffic at any given time. When the amount becomes too great for the server to handle, the server can crash, or stop operating properly, which affects all those who want access. To prevent crashes, ISPs frequently use “throttling,” or limiting certain types of data, on their servers. For example, in order to provide a good overall quality of service for its customers, an ISP might slow down a user who frequently downloads and uploads torrents, uses file-sharing, or watches lots of online videos.
Net neutrality proponents want laws that prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain types of data, either through throttling or filtering specific, legal content. ISPs would also be unable to provide “fast lanes” for certain paying companies who want to get faster content to their users. Net neutrality means that ISPs will move all data at the same rate, regardless of type.
Opponents of net neutrality argue not for rules or restrictions, but for competition. Having more competing ISPs will automatically force existing ones to provide lower prices or better quality service, without the need for regulation. Consumers will also have more options in choosing an ISP for their particular needs.