So what is it, and why does it matter? Net neutrality is the principal that all content on the web should be treated the same; that Internet service providers (ISPs)—the companies that connect you to the Internet—should not be able to favor some content over others or charge extra for “fast lane” access.
Historically, the Internet has been free and open to anyone—the same conditions of access to the digital highway applied to all users. This has allowed a wide variety of content providers to compete on an equal footing. If ISPs are able to control access, they could potentially choose winners and losers and fundamentally alter the way the Internet has functioned up until now.
Two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted strong protections for net neutrality, but some ISPs argue that such regulation is unnecessary and are trying to get the rules changed. The FCC, now under new leadership, has proposed rolling back the Internet protections. The deadline for public comment is July 17, so content providers across the web are rallying supporters to contact the FCC and members of Congress to oppose the proposed changes.
The Internet has become as critical to society as the telephone was in the 20th century, and struggles over how to provide fair and equal access, competition, and business opportunity will rage for some time to come.