Champions of Internet access and freedom protested loudly (and urgently) this week after Google and Verizon jointly proposed new ways to regulate the Internet. For a good summary of the issues, see A Review of Verizon and Google’s Net Neutrality Proposal, written by Cindy Cohn, the legal director and general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
What is “net neutrality”? The phrase generally refers to the idea that your Internet access provider should never give preferential treatment (such as faster speeds) to any Web site or Internet domain you try to visit. By the same token, an Internet access provider should never slow down (or otherwise impede) access to any sites or domains. Technically, providers are able to do these things. Legally, so far, they are not permitted to do them.
Why does this matter? Competition. Google, for example, would like you to watch videos on YouTube. NBC Universal, News Corp., and the Walt Disney Co. would like you to watch videos on Hulu. What if your Internet access provider (such as Verizon) made a cozy deal with, say, Google? The deal might mean YouTube videos always get maximum bandwidth (like turning on a water faucet full blast), but all other video sites get merely average bandwidth.
Common Cause defines net neutrality this way:
The principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they want, post their own content, and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service providers (ISPs).
Read more about net neutrality here.