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Do We Need Net Neutrality? Experts Think So 2021

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Key Takeaways

As more users take their daily lives online, companies like Mozilla and Reddit are calling for net neutrality laws to return.Following net neutrality's repeal in 2017 by Ajit Pai's FCC, the need for it only has grown.Without net neutrality, ISPs have complete control over how you access certain sites and services on the internet. filo / Getty Images

In the wake of Ajit Pai's FCC, experts say proper net neutrality rules are more important than ever as the world continues to go digital.

Over the past four years, net neutrality has been a concern for many, and now that Ajit Pai, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has stepped down, companies like Mozilla are pushing for President Joe Biden and the FCC's upcoming new commissioner to put more rules in place to help keep internet service providers (ISPs) from having too much control over our internet usage.

"Imagine, for example, that an internet service provider wanted to force adoption of its video call tool, and so it limited bandwidth—or even blocked—competing video conference tools. Or that an ISP wanted to support the adoption of its video streaming platform, and slowed down the traffic sent by a competing streaming company," Kaili Lambe, a senior US campaigner with Mozilla, told Ach5 via email. 

"This would be enormously frustrating—especially during a global pandemic when we're all relying heavily on an open internet, one with equal access and no fast lanes for the content ISPs want to prioritize for profit."

The Basics

Net neutrality is the belief that ISPs shouldn't be allowed to control how you access content online and that all ISPs should treat all internet traffic equally. We previously had pro-net neutrality regulations, which were put in place by the FCC during the Obama administration. However, those regulations were repealed by Pai's FCC under the Trump administration.

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During our email chat, Lambe explained that net neutrality laws would guarantee everyday internet users access to whatever services they needed. Whether that's Netflix, YouTube, Zoom, or any other service they use for work, school, or entertainment. ISPs wouldn't be able to control how it's accessed.

The digital divide is something many have been trying to fix for years, and while great strides have been made, many people still don't have easy access to high speed internet. On top of that, many have limited internet service options, meaning they're at the mercy of whatever the ISP in their area offers. Lambe says this shouldn't be the case when it comes to the content you access.

Why We Need It Now

As the world has come to rely more on digital access, we've seen more and more reasons why net neutrality is essential. Earlier this year, an ISP in Idaho wanted to block sites like Twitter and Facebook for "censoring Donald Trump" after the former president was banned from both platforms.

While the ISP noted that anyone who still wanted access to those sites could ask to be white-listed, Lambe says it's a perfect example of why ISPs shouldn't have control over what you can access. It's worth noting the particular area the ISP serves does have its own net neutrality laws in place, but the same issues could happen in places that don't have such protections, effectively giving the ISPs full control over whether or not you can access social media when using their services.

Net neutrality is about protecting you, the user. It's about ensuring ISPs don't have full control over the way you use your data. Without proper laws, the internet becomes a Wild West for service providers to wrangle any way they want, something experts say will be detrimental to us all, whether you use the internet for entertainment or just to check the occasional email.

"They're at the mercy of whatever the ISP in their area wants to offer."

"Net neutrality currently prevents your internet service provider from playing favorites. They can't cut deals and decide to make one site load faster and another load slower," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, wrote in an email.

"If net neutrality laws are taken off the books, these protections no longer exist."