Fast Internet for Everyone?

When we log onto the Internet, we take a lot for granted. We assume we'll be able to access any Web site we want, whenever we want, at the fastest speed, whether it's a corporate or mom-and-pop site. We assume that we can use any service we like -- watching online video, listening to podcasts, sending instant messages -- anytime we choose. What makes all these assumptions possible is Net Neutrality.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet.

Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies.

Net Neutrality is the reason the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech online. It protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data -- not to choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.

Who wants to get rid of Net Neutrality?

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies -- including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. And they want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services and streaming video -- while slowing down or blocking services offered by their competitors.

These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of a level playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services -- or those of big corporations that can afford the steep tolls -- and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.

The big phone and cable companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to gut Net Neutrality, putting the future of the Internet at risk.

What's at stake if we lose Net Neutrality?

The consequences of a world without Net Neutrality would be devastating. Innovation would be stifled, competition limited, and access to information restricted. Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporations.

On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control -- deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There's no middleman. But without Net Neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu.

The free and open Internet brings with it the revolutionary possibility that any Internet site could have the reach of a TV or radio station. The loss of Net Neutrality would end this unparalleled opportunity for freedom of expression.

The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeed or fail on their own merits. Without Net Neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms. The choice we face now is whether we can choose the content and services we want, or whether the broadband barons will choose for us.

Where we stand now

In December, the FCC voted 3-2 to preserve a limited form of Net Neutrality, but the battle is not over. Several broadband carriers are threatening to go to court to strip the FCC of its authority over the Internet. Some Republican members of Congress have sworn to join these carriers in undermining FCC authority to regulate the Internet for the public good.

But the FCC action was weak and favored broadband providers, according to Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press, a media reform group that's called for stronger rules.

In a prepared statement, Aaron said: "We are deeply disappointed that the (FCC) chairman chose to ignore the overwhelming public support for real net neutrality, instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online. This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet's level playing field and protect consumers."

Who else supports Net Neutrality?

The supporters of Net Neutrality include leading tech companies such as Amazon.com, EBay, Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo. Prominent national figures such as Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps have called for stronger Net Neutrality protections.

President Barack Obama himself pledged to “take a back seat to no one” in his commitment to Net Neutrality. And the administration’s technology policies now posted on the White House Web site list Net Neutrality as the top priority.

Editorial boards at the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Times, St. Petersburg Times and Christian Science Monitor have all have urged Congress to save the Internet.

What can I do to help?

To learn more about Net Neutrality, who supports it, who opposes it, how it affects you and how you can get involved to protect it, go to //www.savetheinternet.com/frequently-asked-questions?gclid=COnFme7Yz6YCFUmo4Aodv3FVJA.