Internet & Net Neutrality For Dummies

Will Leffert Editorial, Web & The Internet

Pretty much everybody is talking about it right now, but there is a lot of misinformation about Net Neutrality. I’d like to talk about what it is, and what the real problem is with it’s repeal.

Note: I’ve got credentials. I’ve got a degree in Computer Information Systems, have worked as a Systems Manager handling the network for businesses, have written numerous articles in the industry, and even won an award back in college from 3COM (which netted me one of the first high-end consumer wifi routers, which I promptly sold for a new pair of boots) for my writing on network technology. I’m more then qualified to talk about the internet & net neutrality for dummies.

First, we’ve got to talk about what the internet is before we move on to the “Net Neutrality for Dummies” section.

Part One: Internet for Dummies

There are 3 core parts that you need to understand in this “Internet for Dummies” section: How the consumer gets data, how the business delivers data, and how that data is transported.

Bandwidth is, essentially, how big of a pipe you have to receive data. There’s a lot more to it, but the analogy will work for this. Consumers get to choose their size of pipe through their ISP. There are 4 commonly available types of “pipes”, in ascending order of available bandwidth: Cellular (like your data plan on your phone – 3G, 4G, LTE, etc), DSL (dependent on how close you are to the service point), Cable (better than DSL, but dependent on how many people in your area are using the pipes at any given time), and Fiber (we all love fiber – that’s the biggest consumer pipe available right now, in limited areas).

You typically choose a package from your provider based on the bandwidth, or size of pipe, offered. The biggest is 1gb (gigabit) per second typically, offered by Fiber. DSL ranges from 2mb (megabit) to, if you’re really lucky, 25mb. Cable is a nice middle-ground, and ranges from 10mb to 100mb.

So, you pick your package, and can download so much per second. Cable & Fiber are good for streaming media at high quality, but you’ll typically need fiber to get 4k quality (cable at the top tiers can do that, too).

You may also have a download usage cap; almost always on cellular, but it’s growing more common with DSL and cable, too. That’s neither here nor there, though, for this topic.

Businesses who serve you content have their own pipes. You won’t see many on DSL or cable packages, unless it is some website run out of a garage (I did that for a bit, actually). These pipes are designed to serve HUGE amounts of data at once; If you’ve got multiple people trying to access the same point, you need it, so you pay for that big, fat pipe, to ensure that everybody can stream Who’s The Boss when it’s remastered in 4k (it’ll never happen).

The data is transported across the backbone; the biggest pipes across the entire world, with redundancy and more. We’re talking some real power here, folks, and there’s a lot of untapped potential in it.

You could almost think of it like traveling; You’ve got a driveway for your car, the business has a large parking lot & multiple entrances, and the backbone is the highway.

With that primer, we now come to the reason for this post..

Part 2: Net Neutrality for Dummies

When I say Net Neutrality for Dummies, I don’t mean to insult you, but as I noted at the beginning, there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Most likely you won’t be paying for the internet like you pay for your cable TV package; you won’t have to pay $1.99 extra per month for Facebook (although, with the amount of bandwidth is consumes, I’m not surprised).

Let’s look at some real example of things that happened before net neutrality. Yes, ISPs did bad things before net neutrality, contrary to Ajit Pai’s arguments.

Very few people remember this, but way back in the day, many people used their ISP for e-mail. Some still do. It was a way to lock you in and keep you from switching. When Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Gmail and more came out, they lost their stranglehold on the e-mail services.. But in between the ISPs offering and those webmail services, there were people who ran e-mail services. Many were businesses, others were individuals (such as myself) who had an e-mail address attached to their domain name.

ISPs had an issue with this. While they didn’t block e-mails coming in, the did one thing that was severely annoying: They blocked the ability to send using a mail server other than their own.

In some cases, you could call to get your account upgraded (sometimes for free) so you could use an external mail sending server, but not always.

More recently, we’ve had Verizon throttle Netflix so it could push its own video services. By throttling, they basically limited the amount of the pipe that could be used for Netflix, regardless of the size of your pipe.

AT&T outright blocked FaceTIme on iPhones unless you paid for an upgraded cellular package.

With the repeal of Net Neutrality, all of these can happen again, and more. ISPs can charge businesses more to ensure that their data gets delivered quickly, if at all. That means if someone wants to start a Netflix competitor, they’ve got to pay even more than they normally would to be able to meet up with the potential demand. Anybody small looking to get out there won’t have a voice unless the ISPs allow it.

So, yeah, there is a real issue with repealing Net Neutrality.

By ensuring that all data is treated equal, and nobody has to pay to get fair treatment to serve their data, we have a better Internet.

ISPs themselves have said that Net Neutrality didn’t hurt their business at all. That doesn’t mean they won’t take advantage of the repeal, however.

Hopefully this Net Neutrality for dummies guide helped. Feel free to spread the word!