This past week, net neutrality died. It died a sad death and while some people knew what was coming, many others had no idea. Part of the reason people didn't know about it stems from the fact that many just don't understand what net neutrality is or how important it really is. Well maybe this graph from the Washington Post can change that.
What am I looking at? It's pretty simple actually. The lines represent the changing download speed on Netflix from various service providers. As you can clearly see, eventually some companies started slowing down around August 2013. But the slowdowns weren't caused by faulty networks or bad equipment. Nope, these companies just decided that Netflix would be slower for its user. These companies simply decided to hold Netflix hostage and demand payment to ensure they would deliver Netflix's services smoothly. Essentially: either pay up or we're slowing you down.
Well, Netflix did finally agree to play ball with Comcast and in January 2014, the Netflix download speeds skyrocketed an almost hilarious amount. There's no getting around it, Comcast was holding back on Netflix because they wanted more money. Netflix still isn't paying AT&T and Verizon and, as you can see, the download speeds on these service providers are still heinously low. Eventually Netflix could pay these companies, and those fees will likely be passed on to the customers in the form of higher subscription fees and possible surcharges.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? Everything. Essentially, network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. That means that Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) and the government should not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, or mode of communication. As Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu described it in his major 2003 paper on the topic, "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally."
But as the graph shows, that exactly what's not happening with Netflix's services. Comcast, AT&T and Verizon were discriminating against Netflix and its users, and without firm net neutrality rules in place, there's nothing anyone can do to prevent this type of awful price gauging and general Internet-ruining.
This is real. Network neutrality isn't some technical concept that exists in our minds without real-world application. Without network neutrality, big businesses and the government could easily control the flow or information and decide what you see and how you see it. It's easy for them to do and, as the chart shows, they're already doing it.