This is a topic that springs up into the public life once in a while, like ants after a rain. Flustered socialist (i.e. elected) government officials tell us how the thing (i.e. Net Neutrality) is on the verge of collapsing if we don't "do something about it". How, if we do nothing, corporate hordes will overrun our everyday life and we will forever be subjected to the dictatorship of greed.
Flustered right-wing (i.e. corporate drones) government officials tell us how eeeeeeeverything is going to be just OK, if only we provide a "business-friendly" regulatory and taxation environment. Don't you worry little consumer, big corp is going to be there to supply you will all the bandwidth you need. And, they will do so at an affordable price!
Flustered corporate "communication" (i.e. propaganda) lackeys explain to us how this "thing" is not about curtailing freedom of speech, but to be able to provide highest levels of service for those services that need it most… for a price. But don't you worry little consumer, we are not talking about slowing your internet connection down, we are talking about a two fast-lane speeds; super-fast and hyper-fast. You may not be able to afford the second one, but by Turing! you will be able to afford the first!.
Flustered root-grass "organizers" (i.e. those within the secret circle of truth) enlighten us with regards to this "issue" by stating (for the record) that should corporations be allowed to get away with it, only their bottom line will increase while our pockets will be raided and "our" download speeds will crawl into nothingness. Dial-up modems will be faster! Consumers of the world (or at least our town) unite! Don't miss this opportunity to make your voice heard! Free leaflets for everybody!
However, the public is actually too busy to give a damn… and with good reason. Life is hard and it is made harder by the hour thanks to the tireless efforts of our governments. There are no jobs, pays suck, the environment is down the drain, health care is anything but affordable, public debts are through the roof, politicians are stealing everything that's not nailed and glued down, our retirement plan is a job as a night security guard at a mall, public education is anything but education, affordable housing is a pipe dream and on top of all of that, our cat caught a cold!
Who cares about this "thing"?!!!
Nobody gives a damn.
Before we progress on our standard diatribe, let us waste a little bit of your time explaining the issue as simply as possible (if you would like a longer explanation, just go to Wikipedia and search for "Net Neutrality"). However, be aware that what follows is necessarily an oversimplification. To task.
The internet is a road system through which information travels. Just like in a normal such system, there are highways and secondary roads. If you want to go long distances, you go on a highway. If you want to go to the local neighbourhood, you go through secondary roads.
In the internet highways are called "backbones" and they are large bundles of fiber optic cables capable of transmitting un-imaginable amounts of information at a blazing speed. Those backbones are owned by a few large corporations.
The connections from our houses to those backbones are called the "last mile" in reference to the "last mile" of wire that a message needs to travel once it exits the backbone. The "last mile" wire is owned by an array of companies, some small, some medium-size and some large; typically a Telecom (i.e. telecommunications company).
As it is obvious, he who owns the backbone controls the Internet. Or is it?
In the beginning and in the vast majority of the countries (but not in all of them), backbones were implemented, or contracted or developed by governments. They did so because "something had to be done" to bring "this country" into the 21st century. Sounds familiar? Thought so.
Thus, governments rolled-up their sleeves; they reached deep, deep into your pockets and took from there however much money was necessary to get it done. And done it was.
Once this was done, they mostly realized that sustaining such infrastructure was a big, big problem (as in it being a huge tax drain) and thus they "generously" sold it (or shall we say "donated" at a token price) to private corporations (i.e. "friends" of the government) who would operate such infrastructure under a "set of regulatory rules" or within a "regulatory framework" that will allow for the "unhampered" travel of all information packets and will provide mandated, universal access for a regulated fee so that the entirety of the citizenship may benefit "for the greater good". Again, sounds familiar?
Thus, the current status-quo is that a few large corporations own all the backbones but are mandated to provide access to everybody as long as they pay for such access the government-mandated fee. And who is "everybody"? The Internet Service Providers, aka the middle-man between you and the big corps.
The Bandwidth Issue
So, what's the problem? The problem is that certain other big corps, those with "bandwidth-intensive" products (aka the entertainment industry - read movies) want to offer more products with higher and higher resolutions, followed by real-time interaction and eventually holography. What all this boils down to is bandwidth. All those products are only possible if they are guaranteed sufficient bandwidth. And that's the point. They are not. Due to existing Net Neutrality rules, their information packets compete side-by-side and without further privileges with your information packets. And that's a problem.
The way our communication protocols work is by splitting an object (let's say an e-mail) into several pieces, routing them through different paths and re-assembling the pieces at destination. This ensures that our packets are always sent through the fastest (i.e. less congested) route. Problem is, this won't work for a movie.
If you are watching a movie and you need packet #2364 to see if the hero dies from that chest wound, but instead you get packet #5348, the movie stops and you will have to wait until the correct packet reaches you. See the problem?
And yes, there are several technologies floating around that help minimize this problem, but none of them provides guaranteed bandwidth which is what is required for packet #2364 to arrive in time so that you will finally know that the hero's heart is missed by the bullet by "this" much.
This is today.
Tomorrow, we are moving into HD (high-definition) or HHD (high-high-definition) or UHD (ultra-high-definition) or LHD (ludicrously-high-definition). Under those sets of conditions, the amount of information that needs to be pumped through the net is so large that none of those amelioration strategies work (and yes, we are talking about caching, QoS, and others).
Basically, purveyors of "bandwidth-intensive" applications need… well… bandwidth!
The Capping Issue
However you may want to remember that we live in a limited world. Which means that we only have so much bandwidth to go around. If the owners of backbones strike a deal with the owners of "bandwidth-intensive" applications to sell them exclusive bandwidth, this automatically means less bandwidth for everybody else, which means that your browser will now crawl for lack of… you got it… bandwidth. This process is called "capping" by indirect measures.
The Censorship Issue
And then we have the "other" Net Neutrality issue; the censorship and/or the propaganda issue. Big corps would like nothing more than control what you see for marketing purposes. And then again, as your time is limited, if they are pumping a basket of information "A", you won't be able to see all the movies you want contained in the basket of information "B". There is only so much time in your life and corporations would love to decide which proportion of A to B is "optimum" for you. Or their bottom line…
What all this boils down to, is passive or active censorship.
Enter The Government
And so governments had to "do something about it". This something is to declare illegal the wholesale sale (redundantly redundant) of exclusive bandwidth. More-or-less. Give-or-take. Approximately. As "special" deals and "exceptions" and "technical improvements" can still be negotiated.
They also declared illegal to control what you see, this is, censorship.
Enter The Corps
Yet corporations that are in the business of selling products consuming mountains of bandwidth cannot operate like that; thus, they lobby. Thus, once in a while, once sufficient people in the government (aka your "representatives") have been "convinced" of the benefits of scrapping Net Neutrality, processes to scrap it are revived. To which a whole bunch of people complain loudly and often and the scrapping of Net Neutrality is scrapped. A triumph for civility. And round and round we go. Where do we stop, no electron knows.
See the process?
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.