This debate has been going on for years, and most are blissfully unaware. However, it can strongly affect outdoorsmen on the Internet.
Most of us take for granted our access to the Internet. It's always there, and it just works. However, how it works for you, the consumer, the media creators, web hosts, might change. Drastically.
What is Net Neutrality?
Unfortunately, I can't start this article without going into some history, most of which is boring (important, but still boring). So I will make this as painless as possible.
So, if the term sounds familiar, it's because this is the second time the Internet has undergone changes under this name. And after only three years, we have to deal with this again.
Net Neutrality is the idea that the internet should be equally accessible to anyone and everyone.
No, not free of charge, but legally, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) cannot do anything to hinder you from going to a website that you want to visit. A common example is Verizon, which started to throttle traffic to and from Netflix, essentially picking favorites. The idea was to drive traffic to Verizon's own video streaming service, or get Netflix to pay extra money to prevent slowdowns.
The idea behind Net Neutrality is that your ISP should not be able to limit or block you from making any choice you want to make online.
That would be like you trying to make a phone call to someone who has a different cell provider, only to find that your cell company is blocking the call. That would really suck. Net Neutrality also helps provide a level playing field for small companies looking to grow their online business (like WideOpenSpaces.com). Without it, Verizon and other ISPs could choose to make it a lot easier to access the websites of larger companies with more resources to pay them.
What happened the first time Net Neutrality was in jeopardy?
Let's just get through this, so I can get to the good stuff. In 2010, the FCC wrote rules governing service providers, basically stating they couldn't do any of the things I listed above. Of course, this didn't go over great, so, as the Internet Service Providers at the time were governed under Title I of the Federal Communications act, they went to court.
Service providers argued that the FCC was overstepping their authority under Title I, and Verizon successfully sued the FCC.
The court stated that if the FCC wanted more control, ISPs should be reclassified under Title II, allowing for stronger control. Which is exactly what the FCC did.
What's happening now, and how does it affect me and the outdoor industry?
That brings us to now. The FCC has a new chairman who has overturned the net neutrality rules. If you would like, and I urge you to, you can comment at the link here. Just click on the "express" button.
In the past, ISPs have shut out services, as I explained above with the Netflix example. What's to stop them from doing it again? Pretty much nothing.
I know WideOpenSpaces.com isn't the only place you get your outdoor fix. If this passes, new outdoor sites will find it much harder to get a foothold in the industry. Existing ones, this site included, might be forced to pay for preferential treatment to continued traffic to their site.
Also, if you self-film your hunting, fishing, or any other outdoor activities, you might not have a platform to post to. YouTube will be there, but Google is also an Internet Service Provider. YouTube has also marked a lot of content with hunting or Firearms as "Restricted," which means outdoorsmen might find it hard to promote their own material, especially if they've started their own outdoors company. Pressure to pay extra to compete with larger websites or bigger pro staffs will be a realistic threat to small outdoor companies and bloggers.
New innovative outdoor companies or even some of your favorite small suppliers could be forced out of business. I can't even fathom the adverse affects this would have on the non-profit outdoor groups such as the QDMA, Pheasants Forever, NWTF, or Ducks Unlimited. One thing is for sure, it would be harder for them to spread news and get volunteers that are vital to these outdoor programs.