Net Neutrality Pros and Cons: What It Means for You

Net Neutrality is one of the hottest debates in not only the United States of America, but all over the globe. Almost everyone today is involved in this debate whether they know it or not. With large ISPs pushing for the ability to restrict bandwidths in regards to tiered-internet services, governments getting involved in the debate with possible legislations aimed at net neutrality, and trade agreements like the TTIP or TPP targeting aspects of international data transfer, net neutrality is at the heart of modern business and daily life. Therefore, we decided it would be best to give you some information about it, and explain both sides of the story we call net neutrality.

Introduction to Net Neutrality

What is Net Neutrality?

The Internet is a constantly changing and evolving beast, thanks in no small part to net neutrality. We have net neutrality to thank for just about any startup you have ever heard of - such as Google, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Each of these now-famous brands started, and flourished, courtesy of a great idea and the principle that users enjoy free and equal Internet access.

Net neutrality has opponents as well as proponents (like everything…); so far, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sides with its proponents. Some issues seem to skate the fine line of net neutrality, such as T-Mobile’s Binge On program, which allows T-Mobile customers to stream certain applications, like Netflix, without counting these string sessions toward their monthly data allowance. At a glance, this service seems like a win-win for T-Mobile customers. However, some consider T-Mobile’s Binge On service an infringement of net neutrality. Why? Read on to find out.

T-Mobile’s Binge On Explained

Binge On: A Threat to Net Neutrality?

In November of 2015, T-Mobile announced Binge On, which it claimed would be a valuable service to its customers. Without your data allowance taking a hit, Binge On members can stream "specific" programs as much as they want. The caveat is that T-Mobile decides which programs fall under Binge On’s free-streaming umbrella. To date, it covers 42 services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go. I bet you are thinking "how could this possibly be bad?". Well, it does seem like a great idea at first. T-Mobile customers can spend an entire day watching every episode of "Sherlock" or one of the other million detective series on Netflix. However, is it a good thing for the rest of the Internet users not taking advantage of Binge On? The Stanford Centre for Internet and Society offers a loud, clear, and resounding, "No".

Allowing some content to count towards your data allowance while discounting other content is the basis of the argument against net neutrality. This bias towards applications or programs is called "zero rating". As Hamlet would say, there is the rub. The reality is that zero-rating policies show content favoritism, which net neutrality proponents argue harms free speech and squashes consumers choice. In all honesty, they have a point. If something like Binge On existed in the early 2000’s, we would all still be using Yahoo! as our go-to search engine, and arguments over whether "Google" is a verb may have never happened.

The Pros of Net Neutrality

How Net Neutrality Protects You and Your Online Freedom

Net neutrality ensures that users enjoy equal access to all legal content and applications. This means your ISP can’t charge higher fees for "fast lane" access (meaning the tiered services mentioned earlier), ensuring that all content providers, regardless of size and available bankroll, operate on an even playing field. To net neutrality proponents, this is the key to freedom of the Internet. Let us provide you a "hypothetical" situation in which this "key" was lost. For example, if ISPs were able to charge different amounts for different speeds, different content, or different amounts of available bandwidth, a majority of consumers would lose their ability to have the same Internet abilities as, say, high-capital corporations who would be able to spend much more on Internet capabilities then the "Average Joe". Even more so, if ISPs can discriminate or chose content to support, the principle of Freedom of Speech would be degraded, as ISPs could technically censor content based on their preferences or business partnerships.

Your ISP can’t charge you more for using a competitor’s search engine, or price startups out of the market through tiered pricing for bandwidth or high-speed access. Little fish and big fish get to swim in the same pond when net neutrality is existing. Even if a little fish comes along with a better product, with net neutrality, that fish can grow into a whale overnight. Without net neutrality, monopolies in the realm of ISPs could be more of a possibility with barriers of entry to the market becoming even larger. ISPs also can’t charge fees to prioritize certain types of content, such as preferential treatment for entertainment sites, which traditionally receive more visitors, over educational sites. In essence, net neutrality rules ensure ISPs maintain their role as the medium for transportation of data and information, and nothing more.

The Cons of Net Neutrality

Where Does the Line Get Drawn?

Opponents of net neutrality say that it forbids ISPs from charging heavy Internet users more; however, with those extra funds, ISPs could afford to increase bandwidth for all users (hypothetically…not necessarily what would happen). Zero rating policies would also allow smartphone users without a data plan to stream some content freely. Government regulation also limits online piracy fights, as neither ISPs nor the government can fully block or filter copyrighted material.

The most-cited argument against net neutrality is that it makes monitoring adult and illegal content impossible. Opponents use child pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking sites in this argument. In all fairness, it is a powerful point as it plays directly on the emotions of most Internet users.

The FCC’s Stance on Net Neutrality

For or Against Net Neutrality?

In February 2015, the FCC adopted the Open Internet rules, which protect access to legal content without ISP interference. The Open Internet rules’ foundation lies in Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Effective as of June 12, 2015, the rules promise equal, quick Internet access for both fixed and mobile broadband. Accordingly, providers may not block legal content, impair traffic based on content usage or applications accessed, prioritize content, or create fast lanes.

The FCC recognized the rapid change of online technology when drafting the Open Internet rules. Its goal was to ensure net neutrality for both now and the future. So in essence, the FCC is pro net neutrality.

ZenMate and Net Neutrality

How are VPNs and Net Neutrality Linked?

We’ve talked many times about the numerous benefits of using an encrypted VPN connection to protect your data from prying eyes. It also supports net neutrality. You have seen that net neutrality provides an equal playing field, ensuring all providers start at the same level. Our VPN serves a similar purpose. We route traffic through various ISPs and servers, meaning that no one ISP carries the burden and everyone get equal access. For example, when T-Mobile offers customers free streaming on selected sites, some of that streaming must necessarily occur over another carrier’s bandwidth to meet demand. Naturally, those other carriers disagree with this practice. Your encrypted ZenMate connection protects against that. From desktop to mobile, ZenMate provides secure Internet access that supports net neutrality, as well as encrypting all of your data.

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