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Net neutrality and why it mattersI’m not a big TV watcher, and for the most part, I don’t watch sports (Unlike most guys, sports just aren’t a priority in my life.). Nineteen years ago, the Cubs had a good ball club, which in itself was a rarity, and they were about to clinch a playoff birth in the NCLS. My wife (an AVID Cubs fan) and I had a rare day off together on a day they could clinch their spot, so we got some snacks together, a cooler full of drinks, and sat down to watch the game.

Baseball fans know what happened next: The game didn’t play, at least not for us. Why? Because of Blackout rules, which can govern which areas MLB games can be broadcast on regular networks and which games are on Regional Sports Networks. Guess which channel I didn’t have.

You’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with computers?” Welcome to Net Neutrality.

You’ve likely heard the term before but possibly didn’t know what it meant. In a nutshell, net neutrality means internet service providers (ISPs) cannot treat access to any service or websites any differently than any other; all content is treated equally, no matter the source or how much money they have. This makes it possible for small companies and websites to play on an equal surface with the big companies.

Advocates of net neutrality believe it’s necessary to provide for free speech and the idea of fair market competition and technological innovation. Proponents of net neutrality include human rights organizations and consumer rights advocates.

However, conservatives and major telecommunication providers say net neutrality discourages providers from growing since laying fiber in new areas takes longer to become a profitable venture. They believe tiered pricing encourages companies to improve infrastructure and allows for free marketing by allowing businesses to pay more money for better service/access to consumers.

Without net neutrality, ISPs can limit, or even deny, bandwidth access to those businesses which are unable to pay for that access. It also means ISPs can discriminate against web traffic that does not coincide with their ideology. With net neutrality, those companies are forced to treat all traffic the same, regardless of content or influence.

Net neutrality rules were adopted during the Obama Presidency, but like so many other pieces of Obama legislation, the Trump Administration voided those rules in 2018, with the approval of the Federal Communications Commission. This made the U.S. one of the few free nations without net neutrality. A federal appeals court urged the FCC to reconsider its stance, but Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai declined.

Net neutrality remains a hot-button topic in politics and communications, and likely will be for some time to come.