The internet holds a unique position as one of modern day’s most vital tools that few people truly understand. Technical jargon leaves behind anyone who isn’t tech savvy and even if layman’s terms are used, its infrastructure doesn’t necessarily lend itself to precise analogies.In the context of net neutrality, it’s best to visualize the internet as a series of roads. Your internet service provider (ISP) owns the infrastructure that gets you from your computer to a popular destination such as Facebook.com or Amazon.com.
Net neutrality laws have ensured ISPs treat all destinations the same. Visiting a well-known website like Netflix.com is no different than visiting an independent blog. Your ISP charges a monthly rate for the speed at which you can access the road to your destination. Customers can use the speed they pay for on all roads to access all destinations.
Without net neutrality, ISPs will be allowed to offer “fast lanes” to specific destinations. For example, Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, may offer a “fast lane” for its customers that visit NBCU-owned websites such as MSNBC.com.
On the other hand, ISPs would not obligated to provide roads to all destinations and instead could charge “tolls” for accessing specific roads. For example, ISPs could charge tolls for accessing The New York Times or Netflix, whose websites are not owned by major conglomerates that control the ISP landscape. ISPs could avoid charging their own customers tolls and instead maintain business deals with companies like the Times or Netflix and charge these businesses for access to fast lanes.
If a company has a website, and it can’t afford to pay an ISP for fast lanes, the ISP no longer would have an obligation to maintain a road to their website. In this instance, customers may experience a slow connection to specific sites or not be able to reach them at all.
With net neutrality laws, all websites could be accessed by customers of any ISP. Removing net neutrality laws doesn’t guarantee ISPs will implement tolls or fast lanes, but it does open the door.
Earlier this year, Comcast’s website said the company “won’t throttle back the speed at which content comes to you” and “doesn’t prioritize internet traffic or create paid fast lanes.” Those statements have since been removed.