What You Need To Know About Net Neutrality

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Welcome to What The Tech?!, Refinery29's weekly column explaining the basics behind a buzzword or concept you've heard tossed around in conversation (but maybe don't actually understand).

This week, a federal appeals court upheld an important ruling — one that has a direct impact on how you use your phone and computer every day. In the ruling, internet providers aren't allowed to block, slow, or sell faster delivery of legal content on their networks. In other words, it upholds net neutrality.

Imagine this hypothetical scenario: You're a Comcast subscriber. Comcast owns NBC Universal. Comcast, in its best interests to make money, prioritizes NBC Universal websites and streaming content over that of its competitors. So, if you want to watch the news online without buffering and stuttering, you're inclined to watch an NBC source rather than ABC, the BBC, or another source.

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should provide equal access to online content, regardless of the source. That is, they don't cherry-pick, prioritizing some websites over others. It seems logical and fair, right? Unfortunately, it's an idea that broadband providers have been desperately fighting against.

Because of this, the FCC decided to reclassify high-speed internet as a utility back in February of 2015. By doing so, it's subject to regulation, much like telephone companies. It means everyone has a right to access, that access is reasonably priced, and no individuals or companies are given special treatment. Entities such as AT&T, the American Cable Association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, CenturyLink, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association sued the FCC to overturn this, believing the regulations to be unlawful and that they would impede future network expansion (and if we get political, Republican leaders oppose the reclassification, while Democrats support it). Yesterday, a judge upheld that reclassification.

"Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said following Tuesday's court ruling.

Unfortunately, the fight for net neutrality isn't over. AT&T's general counsel, David McAtee, wants to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. For now, though, you can continue to stream Netflix without your data being throttled and you can visit any (legal) site you choose without that experience being hampered.
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