What is Net Neutrality?

This could be devastating.
 
You may be hearing whispers about “net neutrality” these days, but these whispers need to turn into shouts.  At hand is the absolute biggest blow to the Internet since the day it was created, and you will be affected if it comes to fruition.
 
Under the terms of net neutrality, all web traffic is the same; email traffic = video traffic = surfing traffic, even though some traffic requires more bandwidth. This is why Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge a flat, fixed rate to provide us access to the entire World Wide Web.
 
For quite some time, ISPs have been fighting against net neutrality in favor of a usage-based approach to billing. Just this January, Verizon finally won a suit that struck down core provisions of the regulation.
 
So, what are the ramifications?
 
Content providers on the Internet will now have to pay more to deliver their services based upon how much bandwidth they're using. If they don't want to pay these charges (or if they can't handle the burden), they're free to literally pass the buck onto us, the consumers, in exchange for access to the high-speed channels. 
 
If the charges aren't paid one way or another, their sites will be so incredibly and painfully slow that it won't be worth visiting them.
 
If the providers do pass along charges, that will translate into a mess of additional charges to your bill; depending upon where you like to land during your travels through the World Wide Web, you may be required to pay for certain "packages" in order to access heavy-traffic sites like Netflix.
 
(In response, Netflix has already promised to provoke customer revolt if ISPs move forward with implementing additional charges.)
 
But the real trouble comes when you look beyond the consumer level. Yes, your monthly bill might spike in ways you never anticipated. But what will happen to our small businesses, our charities? Will they be able to afford complete and unfettered access to the Internet? Or will competition for all high-bandwidth services be effectively wiped out?
 
Verizon has already paved the way toward upheaving the Internet as we know it, but it’s not too late; if you don’t agree, say something. Sound the horn. Raise a fuss. Send a letter.
 
This monumental change has somehow managed to slide under the radar, and it still isn’t very widely understood.
 
Make it known.
 
Update 2/19/14: The FCC has stated that they will work to create new net neutrality rules that will function within the provisions of the January court ruling.  If they succeed, perhaps the Internet will remain free and open after all.
 
Update 2/23/14: Despite the FCC's upcoming efforts to reconstruct neutrality, Netflix has agreed to pay fees to Comcast in order to guarantee its customers better streaming abilities.  What happened to the revolt??
 
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