How to Explain Net Neutrality to Your Relatives Over the Holidays

C. Scott Brown net neutrality

1665 words  |  8 minute read  |  Read Original Here

This Thursday many of us Americans will be sitting around a large table with family and friends, laughing and drinking merrily while stuffing our faces with some of the heaviest and fattiest foods we have ever invented. It will be a joyous time!

However, as is the tradition at gatherings such as this, there will invariably be that awkward moment when someone at the table mentions something political. Maybe someone will make a toast to Trump, causing outrage to all the other, non-insane members of the group. Or maybe someone will talk about how they wish the feast were vegan, rather than the luscious, delicious, and succulent omnivorous feast it rightly is.

These remarks will no doubt cause the table to groan in unison, as if bringing up anything that isn’t the requisite “I’m thankful for…” speech is somehow off-color.

But what if someone brings up net neutrality? Maybe Uncle Bob will remark that he’s heard about this net neutrality thing, and thinks it’s good that it’s about to be voted out. After all, it is an Obama-era decree, which means Uncle Bob (who probably looks and talks like a toad) is automatically against it.

Deep down, you know Bob is wrong. You’ve read online and heard in podcasts that net neutrality is good…somehow…and you should support it. But unlike the time you schooled Uncle Bob on why he shouldn’t use the word “darkie” ever in his life, you don’t have the ammunition needed in this case to show him how wrong he is.

Well, lucky for you, I’m here to help you out. If net neutrality is brought up on Thanksgiving Day, you can use the info in this post to handily inform everyone on why net neutrality is probably the one thing passing through government right now that will most directly affect all of them in a profoundly negative fashion…and quickly.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Put simply, net neutrality is the concept that the internet should remain an open and free technology. If you imagine that the internet is a series of highways enabling you to get from one part of the country to the other, net neutrality is the belief that those highways are integral to American life, and therefore can’t be controlled, owned, or manipulated by any private organization without express government approval.

Kind of, you know, like the actual highways we have all throughout this great country.

Just like a highway, the internet enables something to travel from one place to another; it’s just that in this case, the “something” is data. When you clicked on the link that brought you to this page, you transferred data from your computer to several other computers all across the country, which then sent you back data along the “super information highway,” and produced the text and images you currently are viewing.

Without net neutrality, the ability for you to send and receive data on the internet would no longer be an inalienable right to you as an American. With net neutrality gone, those “roads” your data travels on can be controlled to a certain degree by the corporations who deliver you that data.

But What Would REALLY Happen?

Net Neutrality as a concept hopefully makes sense to you now, but what would happen if the net stopped being neutral? Why are so many people so passionately against the repeal of net neutrality?

I have two words for you: cable television.

You probably have cable, right? Most people still do, even though the cord-cutting movement has done some serious damage. What do you hate most about having cable? Is it:

1) The outrageously high prices?

2) The fact that you have to pay for channels you don’t like?

3) The channels that you do want costing a lot more than other channels?

4) The dismal customer service?

5) The high-prices of equipment?

6) …or all of the above?

You probably picked “all of the above,” right? Well, here’s the thing, folks: the death of net neutrality will give internet service providers the ability to do all of those things, but on the internet instead of on your television.


Real World Example

Are you still confused? Let’s talk about something you know well. Everyone likes Netflix, right? How many of your friends spent 9 hours of their life over the past few weeks binge-watching the entirety of Stranger Things’ second season? Netflix is the best!

But Netflix is distributed to you via the internet. That means that Netflix has a server that houses the Stranger Things episodes, and you use your computer (or another internet device) to connect to that server. Through this connection, Netflix can stream you the episodes you want to watch instantly. If net neutrality is repealed, that connection to the Netflix server can be regulated by an internet service provider.

What kind of regulation could they enact? The sky’s the limit, my friend! They could:

· …charge you more for the amount of data you consume, like your cell phone plan. Rather than having unlimited internet, you pay for a bucket of data per month and going over that allotment results in an overage fee. All of those Netflix viewing sessions will add up quick!

· …throttle the data when you go over a certain limit. If you watch too much Netflix (and we all know you do), your ISP could choose to make your stream so slow that it would barely be watchable.

· …make visiting Netflix a premium service. Just like how you would pay extra to watch HBO with your cable subscription, you could be charged by your ISP to watch Netflix. This charge would be in addition to the fee you’re already paying Netflix itself to use their service.

· …shut down Netflix altogether. That’s right, they could block the whole site from you. You type “” into an address bar and you get a blocked page. Or maybe an ad. Or maybe just a GIF of someone flipping you the bird.

Frankly, there are things ISP’s could do that I haven’t even thought of because I don’t have the mind of a greedy, capitalist pig, so I can’t come up with half the insanity they can concoct.

Right now though, they can’t do those things. Technically, they could charge you by the bucket of data rather than in an “unlimited” fashion as they do now, but the other three things would be violating net neutrality. You see that? Net neutrality protects you from being price-gouged by internet service providers.

But Could This Really Happen?

Of course it could really happen! When you think of cable companies and internet service providers like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, etc., do you think of virtue, generosity, and ethics? No! You think of scum, villainy, and hatred. You think of the exact opposite of joy. You think of pure, unbridled hate because these companies are awful and will do anything to gouge you as a customer. These companies practically invented all the dirty tactics companies can use to screw you over.

The death of net neutrality means handing them the keys to the internet. It means giving them more power over how you can consume content and transfer data from one place to another.

The question isn’t “could this happen,” but rather “how soon will it happen after the repeal of net neutrality?” Days? Weeks? Minutes? I’m guessing they’d give it a month or two, but then it would all drop on us at once with tiered data plans, “premium” content surcharges, and new, superfluous equipment fees that weren’t there the day before.

OK, So What Do I Say On Thanksgiving?

You have to be able to summarize everything I’ve talked about here in a few seconds. You have to be able to dumb down a pretty nuanced topic into a sentence or two to get the point across.

My suggestion is to start by giving them a hypothetical situation and then expanding from there. Drop this bomb on the table, and then answer the resulting questions:

The death of net neutrality will result in everyone at this table losing the ability to freely access any site on the internet. Where there is total freedom today, there will be total restriction tomorrow.

Lay that down in an ultra-serious tone. Make sure the people understand that you are not joking. You are not taking this lightly. This is a real threat to everyone at the table because everyone at the table is on the internet.

If Uncle Bob speaks up and says he read on some right-wing chemtrails site that the internet doesn’t need government regulation because “the free market will decide,” tell him he’s wrong. Tell him that for the free market to decide which companies are successful or not, there has to be a free market! Since the ISP’s are essentially an oligarchy, who are they competing against? Themselves?

Ask Uncle Bob which ISP he has, and then ask him what his other choices are. Chances are, he has none! He’s either trapped on Comcast or trapped on Time Warner. How is that a free market?

Bringing back the original analogy, ask him what it would be like if the control of the highways across the USA were handed over to, I don’t know…Coca-Cola. Does he think Coca-Cola would happily maintain those roads for free? Does he think the company would remove all the tolls and advertising and just say, “Here you go, America…have at it!” Or does he think it’s important that the roadways stay neutral and regulated by the government and treated as an open area where anyone can travel?

I’m sure he does. And if he does, he believes in net neutrality, too.

C. Scott Brown

I'm a freelance writer specializing in technology, politics, and social commentary. Visit me at

Leave a comment

© Copyright 2017 -

Designed by C. Scott Brown