What is net neutrality? Why you should care that the Senate just voted to reinstate it

Net neutrality is dead. Or is it?

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 47 to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 decision to repeal the Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules. Three Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted to repeal the FCC’s decision and reinstate net neutrality and maintain an ‘open internet.’

“I have long supported common-sense regulations to prohibit internet providers from prioritizing certain content over other,” Collins said in a statement. “I also support regulations to clarify that Internet providers must not manage their systems in an anti-competitive way. Restoring the FCC’s net neutrality rules will ensure that the internet will remain open.”

Also see: Senate votes to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules

Net neutrality hasn’t exactly been revived

Net neutrality is still set to expire on June 11.

Democrats are hoping to put pressure on Congress to overturn the FCC’s decision to end net neutrality. However, Congress has a 236-193 Republican majority — and Republicans overwhelmingly support the current FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, said the Obama-era net neutrality rules are “heavy-handed, utility-style regulations.”

“Net neutrality” sets out principles for regulators to treat all companies using the internet equally. Consumer advocates refer to that as an “open internet.” The Trump administration calls it “micromanaging.” Verizon VZ, +0.15%  supports the FCC’s quest to end net neutrality, but Google GOOG, +0.24% the world’s most popular search engine, does not.

Here’s what net neutrality means for you:

• People can purchase different internet speeds from their cable provider for different prices

• But that guarantees the same speed for all videos on sites you access with that account

• Net neutrality ensures that those speeds are equal regardless of what service you use

• An end to net neutrality could favor services that pay more to internet service providers

‘I have long supported common-sense regulations to prohibit internet providers from prioritizing certain content over other.’

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine

Consumers also have a lot at stake. Repealing net neutrality rules will give internet service providers more power over what sites we visit and make it more difficult for new companies to grow, said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, a New York-based nonprofit. It will lead to consumers being strong-armed into paying higher prices for higher speeds, he added.

Net neutrality ensures that some websites won’t be left with slower access

Net neutrality was designed to make it easy for the Facebooks FB, -0.61% Netflixes NFLX, +0.63%  and YouTubes of tomorrow to succeed — or get a fair chance — without being penalized by cable companies and broadband providers with slower speeds. Advocates of net neutrality say new players won’t get a proper start if they can’t harness the full power of the Internet.

Without it, what we watch online will be controlled by a small group of big corporations, said Aram Sinnreich, professor of communications at the American University, Washington, D.C. “The real power of the wireless market will be unleashed with the 5G marketplace and digital companies want to dominate that,” he said. Net neutrality, he added, helped provide a more even playing field.

Online content could be controlled by a few ‘mega companies’

In the past, there were no preferential conditions for legacy cable companies. “The entire regulatory approach to the internet and digital services is changing,” Sinnreich said. “We are seeing a move back towards allowing communications and viewing to be controlled by just a few mega companies.” Without competition and innovation, consumers will have fewer choices of faster content, he said.

Without net neutrality, cable companies will be able to charge Netflix, Hulu and YouTube to prioritize their services and speed.

Without net neutrality, cable companies will be able to charge Netflix, Hulu and YouTube to prioritize their services. Netflix works with ISPs to secure faster streaming and has a monthly “Netflix ISP Speed Index,” meaning that Netflix plays at different speeds on different providers. Currently, Comcast CMCSA, +1.69% is No. 1, followed by Cox, Spectrum, Verizon-FIOS, Optimum and Mediacom.

The majority (57%) of Americans support net neutrality rules to prevent internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against lawful content on the internet, this Consumer Reports survey found. Some 16% opposed them and 27% had no opinion. And 67% did not agree that ISPs should be able to choose which websites, apps or streaming services customers can access.

Others hope that the FCC’s plans to kill net neutrality go ahead as planned. Streaming places a burden on the network, which needs to be recouped, said William Rinehart, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, a center-right policy institute. Consumers, he said, could download a movie at a faster speed for a higher price.

Schwantes sees the end to net neutrality as good for cable operators, but bad for Joe Public. “It would be an enormous loss for consumers,” he said.

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