Like the air we breathe surrounds us, so too does the internet. It has become so commonplace in our lives that it’s hard to recall a time where it wasn’t at our fingertips. Before, you had to be tethered to the wall with an Ethernet cord, connecting your desktop to the web. Wifi changed the game allowing us to take it a step forward with laptops; and finally, we gained access to the web at all times when it became available on our cellular devices. Now looking around any line in the grocery store or around a train during commuter hours you will see everyone’s eyes glued to their phones surfing the web. At any given moment, most individuals have one or two to even three devices constantly connecting to the web.
To connect to the internet, broadband signals are sent out to different devices and then re-transmitted so our devices can pick them up. To get an idea of what it might look like imagine that a signal sent out is like a car in traffic. You have heard the internet being described as the “information super highway” and it looks just like that. The roads are what connect us to the various pages of the internet, and the cars in traffic are your phone’s signals being sent to retrieve a page or deliver a message to be posted to the web. The more signals being sent out, the more cars congest the highway, and the slower your internet works.
With this great congestion, there is an immense competition for making some networks faster than others as some signals ideally require uninterrupted connection. Sites that have the most invested interest in a stronger, speedier connection tend to be sites with streaming that would be irritating or impossible to enjoy if it were freezing or buffering often. Some examples would be video, audio, and game streaming sites such as Netflix, Apple TV, and XBOX Live. Imagine a pause in connection due to a poor congested connection similar to running into a tollbooth on the information super highway. There are ways to speed up connection by prioritizing certain connections to web pages. To do this internet providers do what is called broadband throttling, which slows down other sites to speed up connection to the larger sites. The faster uninterrupted connection due to the throttling is tantamount to your car in traffic being sent through the toll in the FastTrack lane, allowing you to sail by the traffic.
The problem with this is that moral code of the internet that its original creators intended was that data be treated equally. Otherwise, there is a fear of larger websites overpowering and slowing smaller sites by using their money to make their voice louder on the internet. Net neutrality cannot be enforced however, because it is not an actual law. Until it becomes a “commodity” similar to the way electricity can be monitored by the government, it is still free reigning. Advocates for net neutrality essentially are fighting against the powerful semi-trucks hogging the highway, and are representatives for the smaller “hoopties” of the roads.