Net Neutrality is something many of us have been rattling on about for years now. The problem is that it doesn't sound terribly sexy and interesting and it's often described in a far too technical manner sending folks scrabbling off to watch a kitten on YouTube. Thing is though, it's desperately important and we could be losing it.
So, what is it (and if you already know forgive me for being condescending)? Do you remember when people still referred to the Internet as the 'information superhighway'? Back when it pretty much was and most of our time wasn't spent posting pictures of our dinner or describing our uneventful lives in 140 characters or less.
Think of the Internet as a big shiny road, really wide, and every lane is a fast lane. There is no form of traffic management needed here as everyone is heading in the same direction. Your small blog (or mine) can race alongside giants like YouTube or Facebook. All at the same speed, all enjoying the same wide open road with, as I said, no traffic management, no toll booths, just mile after mile of smooth driving.
It sounds cool because it is. The Internet is one of the last level playing fields available to us all. You could start a site tomorrow for tuppence which could grow to rival the mega sites worth hundreds of millions and beyond. They have no advantage over you beyond finance, they can't snuff you out, buy the store next door and sell stuff cheaper, nothing. They just have to ride right alongside you.
Now the Net Neutrality part. Net Neutrality means no packet of information can be discriminated against hence your site being as available as Facespacetube.com. What many of the telecoms companies desire is an end to all this nonsense. They think it's not enough that people pay to browse the Internet, they want to charge both ends. That shiny road we all use will be allowed to turn into a weed choked, potholed, congested nightmare but alongside it they will build a shiner, even smoother and faster road. But they'll charge you for using it.
Great ideas or sites with a message will no longer really be able to rely on reaching an audience organically. As the Net grows more and more akin to cable television people won't want to bother with some crappy site that takes ages to load. Screw that, YouTube are showing puppies and kittens and stuff and that loads up really fast!
Even more insidious is the thought of further packet discrimination. What if you've got a blog which is anti corporate or anti government and the telecoms giants decide they don't want to carry that message? Without Net Neutrality they would be able to simply snuff you out. Your message, your site, your business, no matter...just gone.
If you only use the massive sites and you're happy being an apathetic consumer of what's served to you by corporate entities then you won't mind so much and the entertainment companies will love you too. Granted the 'Internet Industry' which generates more tax income than the whole film and music industry combined will suffer and many people will see their business and lives ruined, but that's okay. We have kittens.
I want to round this off with a bit of politics if I may. I see quite a lot of people claiming the free market is a solution to this issue. That, should this come to pass, new telecoms companies will sprout up to fill the void. To this I would ask a one word question. How? The US has been carved up by the telecoms giants and they own all the wire, who can compete with that? Sorry, guys. If you cherish the Internet which, for all its faults, is the single greatest repository of information, the most amazing communication device the world has ever seen then this is one bit of 'socialism' you might have to embrace.
Boycott the companies who oppose Net Neutrality where possible (Virgin media and Apple spring to mind), write to your MP or your Senator, join the discussion online and protect something so important, so desperately important, the Internet.