It’s very likely that if you’re an active internet user, you’re going to see the words “net neutrality” pop up a lot on various websites, social media and apps on July 12th. Because dozens of large online brands and hundreds of YouTubers and content creators will be taking part in the “Battle For The Net”; a widespread day of action to protect the content you see online from big cable companies.
But before you dismiss it as an annoying viral campaign, or something that doesn’t affect your country, it’s important to actually learn a little about what it means; and most importantly, how it will affect the internet as you know it.
So what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is, in a nutshell, the internet’s equivalent of a right to free speech. It’s the idea that all content online should be made available in equal measures, at equal speeds; and that internet providers are not allowed to monitor, limit or charge more for people’s access to certain things. Rules in favour of net neutrality were won for the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in 2015.
Sounds good. Why’s it at risk?
So with an all-new government in charge in the United States, many of whom have “interest” (read: money) in the success of internet providers like Verizon and Comcast, net neutrality is being brought back into discussion. The FCC wants to undo net neutrality’s legal foundation; which would allow the Big Cable companies to block, throttle, charge for or completely censor any digital content they wish. For example, Comcast slowing down Netflix’s service because they are a direct competitor to HBO Go – which they own.
If you need this explained more clearly in video form, you can see Hank Green debate the issue with a more evil capitalist version of himself in the video below.
So why are so many websites fighting to protect it?
The evidence comes from the details above. A lot of people who work in online media believe big cable companies should not have the right to decide what you can and can’t see online, based on their own interests. But they will – unless actual internet organisations warn their users about the gravity of the situation.
Who would I know that’s taking a stand?
Several major websites and social media outlets have added their names to the Battle For The Net campaign; pledging to raise awareness amongst their user bases on July 12th. Netflix, Twitter, Reddit, and Spotify are just some of the biggest names in a massive roster of brands speaking up for net neutrality.
If you’re a Tumblr fan, sadly you won’t see them on the list anymore; their parent company Yahoo was recently bought out by cable company Verizon.
But I don’t trust companies. Who else have you got?
Fair enough; in that case, you can look at the open letter signed by over 170 members of the Internet Creators Guild. YouTubers, filmmakers and influencers from all walks of life and sizes of audience have signed this letter; which outline just how much rolling back net neutrality would affect their livelihoods, and urging Congress to oppose it.
But will this really affect people outside the US?
So at the moment it’s unclear just how much the user experience of the internet will be affected worldwide. Obviously the big US cable companies don’t provide your internet. But one thing is certain – a lot of the content we consume online is thanks to the work of American creators and companies. If the end of net neutrality starts to negatively affect how they can conduct their business online, soon we’ll start to see the effects rippling across the rest of the World Wide Web.
Alright, I’m in. What can I do?
If you live in the US, you can write an open letter to the FCC and Congress at battleforthenet.com. Or if you live elsewhere and happen to make stuff on the internet, you can add your name to the Internet Creators Guild’s open letter. But if neither of these things apply to you, then you can show your support tomorrow by paying attention to everything people are saying about net neutrality and sharing the stuff that matters to you most.