Saturday, April 14, 2018

Money Crashers: Net Neutrality Explained

It's been about five years now since Brian and I got fed up with Verizon (after they'd screwed us not once but twice) and switched over all our services—phone, Internet, and for a while at least, cable TV—to Cablevision. Since then, I've been tempted repeatedly by the offers we keep getting from Verizon saying they can offer us all three services—including faster and more reliable Internet—at a significantly lower price than we're paying now.

For a while I was holding out against them on the grounds that based on our past experiences, we had no reason to believe Verizon could actually deliver on its promises—but then several things happened to shake my confidence. First, a Verizon rep rang our doorbell and started trying to sell me on their new FiOS service, going so far as to point out the actual cable that carried the signal. Second, our Cablevision Internet connection started to become a little wonky, cutting out at unexpected times. And third, I saw several survey showing that of all the ISPs available in our state, Verizon actually had the best ratings for customer service, which suggested that they had actually "upgraded their customer service" just as the rep had claimed.

However, just as I was on the point of giving in and making the switch, the Trump administration started making noises about scrapping the 2015 Open Internet Rule (as it eventually did in November 2017, though the change doesn't take effect for another couple of weeks). At that time, there were reports that multiple ISPs were actively lobbying the administration to make the change—and when I checked, Verizon's name was right there on the list. That got me so hopping mad that I decided, screw it, I was willing to pay an extra few hundred bucks a year to support a company that wasn't actively working to destroy the Internet as we know it.

So, the next time a couple of Verizon reps showed up at my door, I politely but firmly said I wasn't interested in ever having service with Verizon. And when they asked why, as I had expected they would, I was happy to explain that it was because of the company's stance on net neutrality. What I wasn't expecting was for their next question to be, "What's that?"

This forced me to think as best as I could on my feet to explain what net neutrality means in just a couple of sentences. I think it came out something like, "Well, it means that the people who own the pipes that deliver your Internet service can't control what you see online by blocking certain sites or making you pay extra for them. And right now there are laws that say they can't do that, and Verizon is working to get those laws changed." Which wasn't bad for an off-the-cuff response, and clearly came as news to the two students who were shilling for Verizon—but it got me thinking that apparently there are a lot of people who really understand this issue, and a more complete and coherent explanation might be handy for them.

So in my latest Money Crashers article, I've attempted to provide this. As clearly and succinctly as I could manage, I explain what net neutrality means, give some examples of what can happen when there are no rules to protect it, outline the changes in net neutrality law over the past few years, and explain how the new rules to "restore Internet freedom" could affect us all: how we pay for Internet service, what content we're able to view online, and what products and services will never get off the ground because they can't afford to pay for access to the new Internet "fast lane." Then I wrap up with some discussion of how the fight over net neutrality is being continued at the federal, state, and local level, and what you can do to get involved.

So if you don't feel like you quite understand net neutrality—or if you do understand it but aren't sure what you can do to protect it—this article is for you: Net Neutrality Explained – What It Is and Why Internet Regulation Matters

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