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Net Neutrality What is it, why does it matter and what can we do?

In 2018, US law-makers moved to end net neutrality, one of the founding pillars of the internet. It may have felt like a distant, complicated or purely technical thing, but in fact it could make the web worse for everyone. But what is net neutrality? Why does it matter? And why should we fight it? Well…

Animation: Chris McDonnell / Music: Adam Roth & Allen Blickle

WILL avatar Will: Nice video. I liked the bit when they're all happily gathered. But I don’t really get Net Neutrality...

Kaela avatar Kaela: Well, it’s pretty important. The FCC has a plan to give ISPs more control over how things are seen online...

WILL avatar Will: Who talks like this? ISP? FCC? 😴😴😴

Kaela avatar Kaela: Sorry, I get carried away. But yeah. ISPs. Internet Service Providers. The company you pay to give you access to the internet. And the FCC is the Federal Communications Commission, which, in this case, decides what rules the ISPs have to play by.

WILL avatar Will: Is that the same FCC that wouldn’t let Eminem be?

Kaela avatar Kaela: What an odd 2002 reference.

WILL avatar Will: I think The Eminem Show is quite underrated. But sorry, what’s changed?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Under net neutrality, the idea was that “all data is equal.” So your ISP gives you the same access, at the same speeds, to whatever you want to see online. Whether that’s Netflix, Facebook or some Eminem fan forums...

WILL avatar Will: Low blow. But now?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Now, the FCC has decided that your internet provider can slow down or speed up your browser depending on what you’re accessing. Essentially, they can interfere with the way we use the web. Or more likely they can charge us for premium sites we want to use more than others. Like Eminem fan for-

WILL avatar Will: Stop it. This sounds terrible. Why would they do that?

Kaela avatar Kaela: They say it’s good for competition and innovation.

Illustration by Chris McDonnell

30 minutes later…

Kaela avatar Kaela: Are you still there?

WILL avatar Will: Sorry I was watching #Beychellaagain. That voice. That choreography. The Solange dance off. What were we talking about?


Kaela avatar Kaela: Net neutrality.

WILL avatar Will: Oh yeah. I don’t think it’ll affect me really.

Kaela avatar Kaela: But that’s the whole thing! How would you feel if in the middle of watching Queen B, your internet slows down and the video keeps buffering?

WILL avatar Will: Why would you even imagine such a thing?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Because that’s exactly what might happen. Imagine if Coachella was sponsored by a big tech company, but your ISP had a deal with a rival tech company. They might restrict access to that content.

WILL avatar Will: Even the bit when Destiny’s Child came out?


Kaela avatar Kaela: Yes. Even that bit.

WILL avatar Will: But isn’t this really about big companies and their deals with other big companies?

Kaela avatar Kaela: On one level, but it will trickle down to all of us. Online calls, online gaming, online Beyoncé-worship…

WILL avatar Will: It feels like this isn’t what the internet is all about.

Kaela avatar Kaela: Nope. Tim Berners-Leeactually wrote a Medium post about it.

The most important thing you should know about Tim is that he invented the World Wide Web in 1989, and so basically the way you browse the internet nowadays wouldn't be possible without him. Pretty important chap, no?

WILL avatar Will: TL;DR

Kaela avatar Kaela: Why are you like this? Here’s the key thing Tim says: “I want an internet where content businesses grow according to their quality, not their ability to pay to ride in the fast lane. I want an internet where ideas spread because they’re inspiring, not because they chime with the views of telecom executives. I want an internet where consumers decide what succeeds online, and where ISPs focus on providing the best connectivity.”

WILL avatar Will: So Tim is saying this change kills creativity?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Yes.

WILL avatar Will: Well this has all really cheered me up. Thanks very much. What can we do?

Kaela avatar Kaela: I thought you’d never ask. Option one, leave the internet. Live in the woods, catch your own food, forget we ever had Wikipedia, or YouTube, or cat gifs...


WILL avatar Will: No thanks. Next.

Kaela avatar Kaela: Some people are actually starting their own community ISPs, so they can build an internet which works for them. These folks in Detroit did it. Here at WeTransfer we’ve partnered with Community Broadband Project to launch a grassroots option in our neighborhood.

WILL avatar Will: How would I even begin to do that?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Again, great question. It’s almost like this is planned out rather than an off-the-cuff chat. Here’s a how-to guide to starting your own ISP.

WILL avatar Will: I think you’re mistaking me for The Richest Person in The World.

Kaela avatar Kaela: Well, it’s more about connecting a community and all chipping in together.

Illustration by Ariel Roman

WILL avatar Will: Still. 💸💸💸

Kaela avatar Kaela: There are services like Google's Fiber which offers speedy, secure internet. The bad news is it's only available in some places – this nifty map shows you where.

WILL avatar Will: Ok this still seems quite a big deal. I’m pretty lazy.

Kaela avatar Kaela: How about using a VPN? That means your ISP can’t see which services you're using.

WILL avatar Will: Oh great. Another abbreviation.

Kaela avatar Kaela: Let me just Google that for you. Virtual Private Network. I happen to have a handy VPN guide you can check.

You can of course just add your voice to the public debate. Sign the petition. Contact your Congressperson. Sing our Net Neutrality song down the line.

You can find your representative's contact details here. And then just channel your inner Beyoncé and start singing: Pleaaaase don't go changing on me, Net Neutrality. Pleaaaase don't go changing on us, it's a must!

WILL avatar Will: Won’t that be maddeningly annoying for them?

Illustration by Ariel Roman

Kaela avatar Kaela:

WILL avatar Will:

Kaela avatar Kaela:

WILL avatar Will: Oh! Gotcha. Anywhere else I can find out more.

Kaela avatar Kaela: Yes, you can go here.

WILL avatar Will: Well, thanks for this. I feel like we’ve really bonded. Should we swap numbers or something?

Kaela avatar Kaela: Nah I’m good.

I believe in an equal and open internet (and I can’t get this dang catchy song out of my head…)

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