Net Neutrality and what it means for your nonprofit

Net Neutrality started to become a serious issue a few years ago with a complaint against Comcast accusing them of throttling a file sharing service called BitTorrent, meaning they were reducing the amount of bandwidth available to traffic for transferring data. The FCC stepped in an ordered Comcast to stop the policy of discriminating between different types of traffic on their site. Comcast appealed the FCCs order to stop throttling traffic and won based on a lack of precedent banning the practice to begin with.

Following the case, the FCC began forming regulations and rules for Preserving a Free and Open Internet. The regulations included transparency of network management practices and setting a rule that service providers could not block/discriminate lawful content. (Full Document).

Almost immediately after the rules were presented, Verizon filed a challenge against the FCC, stating that the FCC does not have the authority to create the regulations in the first place.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year, and the same court that ruled against the FCC in the Comcast/BitTorrent complaint also rules against the FCCs new set of Net Neutrality rules. Verizons argument is that:

ISPs should have the First amendment right to edit the Internet and determine what content flows over their wires.

The battle has primarily been waged between large ISPs (Verizon, Comcast) and a large government bureaucracy that every day individuals rarely interact with. So, the idea of net neutrality has been more of an abstract idea rather than an issue that has immediate and direct impact on peoples internet usage.

However, this with the recent ruling opens the door for ISPs to start acting in violation of Net Neutrality.

What this means for you and your nonprofit

This ruling could take away your choice in determining what is valuable enough for you to access over your internet connection and getting the same quality connection for every site, no matter who owns it. Without Net Neutrality, the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) would instead be in charge of making this decision for you. That means, they can slow down or stop access to certain sites.

  • Because everyone likes a good driving analogy, a road without road neutrality, would look like this:
  • You drive a Volkswagen
  • The company that controls the road decides that they like BMWs
  • You have to pull over to let any BMW go by first

See how annoying that would be? It’s going to take you forever to get where you’re going, especially when more and longer BMWs fill the road.

Within the non-profit area this can cause serious issues in connecting with users, funders, clients, etc. Content that is very important, but only to a small section of the population, such as the individuals that a nonprofit may work with, would be deferred for content that the ISPs have decided is more important (and potentially more profitable to them).

Since the internet currently keeps all content on an equal playing field which allows your voice, or my voice, or anyones voice to reach whomever would like to find it, small communities with far flung members can easily interact and collaborate through the internet. Discovering groups that can help you is as simple as searching online, or typing in a URL. Removing that equal footing can reduce access to groups or individuals in a detrimental way. The openness of the internet has allowed individuals to educate themselves easily and usually for free. Allowing ISPs to reduce the quality of connection based on their personal gain will make these activities much harder and unwieldy. It is not a stretch to believe that users and groups will pay these large corporations for better access, but why should that be like anything else?

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