Net neutrality is the basic principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally. And this principle is being dismantled by the new Federal Communications Commission.

The new chairman, Ajit Pai, rolled back these consumer protection regulations that the previous FCC created under the Obama administration.

Under the previous net neutrality rules, internet service providers cannot slow or block legal content that their paying subscribers want to reach. Also, content providers cannot pay internet service providers to make their sites or services faster than competitors. There are certain exceptions that ISPs can make for things like public services, like remote heart monitoring. 

ISPs shouldn’t be able to pick winners and losers online or give their own services an unfair advantage over their competitors. We don’t think that internet service providers should be able to control what content or services you access on the internet. Nor should they be able to penalize you for using another company’s services on the internet.

What does Zero Rating mean?

Last week, Pai took the first step against net neutrality by ending investigations into companies using zero-rating — the practice of charging you for data if you use a competitor’s services, such as video streaming or other downloads, but not if you use their own services.

Examples include AT&T’s access to DirecTV Now, T-Mobile’s Binge On, and Verizon’s NFL streaming. If you are a customer of one of these companies, you have unlimited data towards these specific apps.

The end of these investigations is a bad sign that net neutrality is under attack. The FCC should not rollback this basic consumer protection that ensures the internet is free and open.

So what does this all mean?

If a private company owned a highway, they could theoretically decide that Toyotas, for example, have to drive in the slow lane. Without net neutrality, an ISP could slow down one specific service.

In 2014 when Comcast was negotiating a contract with Netflix, Comcast artificially slowed the streaming of Netflix to their customers. Since Netflix, a supporter of net neutrality had a loyal customer base and real bargaining power, they were able to reach a “mutually beneficial” agreement that ended the slowdown. The real problem is that smaller, newer companies on the market will likely not have the resources to make sure their services get equal treatment.

If we go back to the car example, Toyota might be able to pay a private company to make sure their cars are allowed in the fast lane; however, when a brand new car is on the market, that might offer the best product to customers, they won’t be able to compete to get their cars in the fast lane.

Net neutrality makes it so that the government prevents ISPs from leveraging their power over internet speeds in order to assert dominance or maintain a monopoly. The internet should be free and open. We need to tell the FCC to uphold current net neutrality rules.