What is Net Neutrality?

The Internet is awesome because it belongs to all of us equally.

The Internet is a level playing field, and that key quality has fueled economic development and innovation and has enabled people to freely express themselves. Founders of platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Uber, AirBnB, Yahoo and yes, Mozilla, may never have seen their visions become reality if they hadn't had the same access to the Web as large corporations.

It is the web as we know it today, and it is founded on the principle of 'Net Neutrality' -- that data, no matter who it is coming from or who is receiving it, is given the same priority by Internet Service Providers.
But Net Neutrality is now under threat. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) submitted a proposal that would make it possible for large companies to buy faster lanes for Internet access. Instead of a neutral, level playing field like it’s always been, Internet access providers like cable companies could start to discriminate -- favoring corporations with huge budgets and pushing regular Internet users or start-up entrepreneurs to the margins.

This module is all about teaching you about Net Neutrality: why it's important, who is influencing public policy, and how YOU can make a difference. We want you to be able to teach others so that we can all protect the Web we want.

We are in a fight for the future of the Internet. By participating, you are part of #TeamInternet.

Act 1: What is Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the principle that says that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treat all data that travels over their networks equally. This principle is vitally important to maintaining a vibrant and resilient Internet because it means that ISPs cannot discriminate data -- they cannot block it or prioritize it based on economic incentives.

Vi Hart Explains it well here:

Why is Net Neutrality Important?

  1. Net neutrality protects content creators. From small businesses to large companies to nonprofit organizations, net neutrality ensures that their content gets delivered to the right audience at the right time. This is important to foster free expression and innovation.

    Think of it this way: Net neutrality is one of the reasons why today's booming technology industry has been a driver of the economy. When companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram were started, they didn't need to seek permission or pay special fees to get the Web access they needed to open their service to the world. They simply needed a great idea and service coupled with the ability to reach the world.

  2. Net neutrality protects people. Net neutrality ensures that we have access to all of the content on the Web, regardless of whether it comes from a big Hollywood media company, a technology start-up, or a friend. Beyond this, it protects individuals, since on the Internet, we are not just consumers, we are creators.

What's the consequence of losing Net Neutrality?

Right now, the Internet preserves your right to access all lawful content and software without interference. It is a level playing field: you can watch House of Cards, read Wikipedia, or build a website for your new business -- all on equal terms as everybody else.

This is what has made the web what it is today, a global engine for innovation and entrepreneurship. The Internet is a beautiful thing. With it, people can learn and teach. Revolutions start. Movements -- cultural and political -- get their momentum. And it’s all possible because the Internet is one of the few places that provides a real, even playing field.

The end of net neutrality could set a precedent for an internet that is increasingly closed, centrally controlled, and designed to serve the few instead of the many. It's estimated that 5 billion more people will join the internet in the next decade. Imagine what we would lose if the next generation of inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs didn't have the same equal access to the Web that we enjoy today.


  1. Loss of innovation
  2. Loss of free expression
  3. Loss of the Web as we know it

Act 2: Who influences Net Neutrality policy?

Public policy in the United States is shaped, developed and influenced by many stakeholders, and so before we get to advocating for net neutrality, we need to understand who is influencing policy in this area. Here is a primer:

Meet the U.S. Federal Communications Commission

Image via the Cagle Post

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government, created by Congressional statute to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security.

  • Tom Wheeler was appointed to Chairman of the FCC by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2013. Prior to working at the FCC, Wheeler worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. He worked at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association starting in 1976 and became president of the trade group in 1979. He served the trade group until 1984.

  • What has the FCC done: On 23 April 2014, the FCC considered a new rule that will permit Internet service providers to offer content providers a faster track to send content, thus reversing their earlier net neutrality position.

Meet The White House

  • Even though the FCC is an independent agency, the President of the United States appoints the FCC Chairman. President Obama appointed the acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.

  • What has the White House done: The White House has stated that it "vigorously" supports a "robust, free and open Internet" and "Preserving an open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity."

Meet the U.S. Congress

  • Even though the FCC is an independent agency, the U.S. Congress confirms the President's appointment of the FCC Chairman, and both the Senate and House of Representatives have committees that oversee and allocate budget to the FCC.

  • It’s Congress that gives the FCC the authority to make rules, including rules to erode or protect Net Neutrality.

  • Congress has the power to undo anything good the FCC might do, and some members of Congress are trying today to preemptively stop the FCC from doing the right thing.

  • Congress answers to voters.

  • What has Congress done: Many Members of Congress haven’t chosen a position on Net Neutrality yet.

the Cable Companies vs. #TeamInternet

Image cc-by the Society Pages

  • Top corporations or corporate associations lobbying against Net Neutrality:

    • Verizon
    • AT&T
    • Comcast
    • National Cable & Telecommunications Association
    • CTIA - The Wireless Association
  • What are the Cable Companies doing: They are investing millions in lobbying -- in fact, Cable Companies are the #2 in lobbying spending in the United States. Major cable and internet service providers argue that the U.S. government shouldn't tell them how to manage their Internet networks.

  • Companies, Nonprofits and Foundations that are Pro-Net Neutrality.

    • Dozens of tech companies have called on the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to adopt rules that would protect the openness of Internet
    • Hundreds of public interest organizations have fought for years to try to achieve reform.
    • The Internet Association represents three dozen web companies such as Google Inc, Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc,.
    • reddit is a platform for discussion and a staunch advocate for Net Neutrality.
    • Engine Advocacy, a nonprofit organization supporting the growth of technology entrepreneurship, has also been an active proponent of supporting Net Neutrality by channeling the voice of the tech startup community.
  • "The Internet is threatened by broadband Internet access providers who would turn the open, best-efforts Internet into a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today's Internet," the group wrote in a statement.

Act 3: Your role in #winning

It’s up to us — you and me and everyone who believes in a free Internet shared by all — to raise our voices over the coming weeks when decisions are being made. It’s up to us to protect the Internet we know and love from becoming increasingly closed, centrally controlled, and designed to serve the few instead of the many. We built it, thousands of us — millions! — coding and writing and making and sharing. It took millions of us to help the Internet grow and evolve into what it is today — and now it’s up to us to protect it.

We need to flood Congress, the FCC and the White House with the American public's voice about the importance of Net Neutrality and to make sure that the FCC rejects any notion of fast or slow lanes for the Internet.

Where to next?