Net neutrality: What it is, why you should care

Woody Leonhard

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has proposed a new set of rules that will change — some say kill — net neutrality.

With regulations coming soon, Congress hunkered down; and with a brawl breaking out on a dozen different fronts, here’s what you need to know about the FCC’s proposal and how it will affect you.

Perceptions of net neutrality differ

In the March 27 Top Story, I talked about how Netflix’s deal to hook directly into Comcast’s network didn’t violate net neutrality. I noted that co-locating Netflix servers in Comcast facilities simply bypassed intermediaries such as Cogent, Level 3, and other Content Delivery Network (CDN) companies. (CDNs typically act as a bridge between content providers such as Netflix and Internet service providers such as Comcast.)

The Netflix/Comcast deal might result in higher Netflix fees, but it doesn’t have any net-neutrality repercussions that I can see. However, other events and trends do have possible ramifications for net neutrality. Since I wrote that March 27 Top Story, the discussions about keeping the Internet on a level playing field have reached new highs and, unfortunately, new lows.

Discussing net neutrality is often difficult because it means very different things to different people — and to different multi-billion-dollar organizations. A SaveTheInternet YouTube video has a layman’s overview. Yes, it’s biased; but it includes humorous scenes from John Hodgman’s July 29, 2006, The Daily Show skit on the topic.

My definition of net neutrality is really quite simple and, I think, reflects the interests of most individuals and businesses that rely on the Internet. In his Feb. 27 Stratechery blog, Ben Thompson said it best: “Net neutrality means non-discrimination against packets from origin to destination. A packet from Netflix or YouTube or PornHub or the New York Times is treated and priced exactly the same from server to client and back again.”

As the blog notes, ISPs and content providers base their definitions of net neutrality mostly on their corporate interests.

Fallout from a questionable FCC decision

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2014-05-08:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.