Don’t know what Net Neutrality is?
Wonder how it will affect your grantees and other nonprofits?
What The Heck is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality, a phrase coined by Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, “is best defined as a network design principle.” Wu continues:
The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.
Scratching your head a bit? No worries. Let’s break this down.
“A network design principle.” The network in question is the Internet. So Net Neutrality is about how the Internet is set up.
“The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.” Essentially that for the Internet to be “maximally useful” it should “treat all content”–that means blogs, websites (including the websites of foundations and nonprofits), search engines, etc–as equal and not giving one of those platforms preferential treatment.
“This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application.” Treating all content as equal, no matter who created it, is the basic tenet of Net Neutrality. And for supporters of Net Neutrality that means all people have equal access to the “maximally useful” Internet.
Vincent Stehle, regular columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a philanthropic consultant, recently described Net Neutrality as:
The idea is that anybody who uses the Internet will have equal access to every piece of information available, without special treatment or discrimination on the part of Internet service providers, be they cable companies, phone companies, or public utilities. And it is a principle that is critical to the success of nonprofits in the marketplace of ideas.
(What’s that about “the success of nonprofits”? Don’t worry, we’ll get there.)
And for those of you who are visual learners, here’s a really cool infographic that explains the Net Neutrality concept.
Now, Net Neutrality has been the status quo since the internet came into existence. And some people suggest that it was this defining characteristic that allowed businesses like Google and eBay to go from small shops to multimillion organizations.
So if it’s been the status quo, why is all of a sudden a topic of debate?
Battle Over the Fate of the Internet
Sounds a little dramatic, doesn’t it. But maybe it’s not hyperbole when you consider what might happen if Net Neutrality is done away with.
So who’s battling? And over what? Again, let’s go back to Vincent Stehle’s recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:
But in recent years, a battle has been raging between consumer groups and telecommunications companies over the fate of the Internet—whether it will remain neutral in the way content is delivered or whether phone and cable companies will be able to offer special deals featuring their own content. And by comparison, will these same companies be able to degrade the experience of content that flows outside of the entertainment channels they control.
So if the Internet was no longer “neutral,” what would it look like?
Here’s a video that explains the issue (fyi, “ISP” stands for Internet Service Provider):
So the main points of proponents of Net Neutrality as conveyed in that video above are:
- Currently with Net Neutrality you choose where you go online.
- Internet Service Provides (ISPs) currently give you equal access to all websites.
- Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could degrade or block access to websites in order to drive you to other sites which benefit their bottom line.
So what does this mean for nonprofits?
Net Neutrality and Nonprofits
Wondering how all this might affect your grantees and their constituents? I’ll let Vincent Stehle explain:
Before the Internet, a nonprofit organization that wanted to make its case would have had to attract the interest of somebody in the news or entertainment media. It could attempt to generate a news story that might be covered by a newspaper or broadcaster. It could cut a public-service announcement that might, with some luck, appear for 30 or 60 seconds, frequently at 2 a.m. in front of an audience of slumbering “viewers” who forgot to turn off their television sets. In short, nonprofits were largely invisible.
The advent of the Internet has resulted in an explosion of meaningful communications between nonprofit organizations and their supporters. Charities and foundations are now able to tell their stories without permission, without interpretation—and without the snoring.
The capacity of nonprofits to communicate directly with their supporters and constituents has expanded their ability to generate financial support and deliver programs that make a difference. And that capacity should not be undermined by a newly constrained Internet economy.
Imagine if Net Neutrality went away. Next imagine if someone was trying to find services on domestic violence prevention or information on free healthcare clinics or after-school programs for children, but the internet access to websites for the nonprofits providing those services was degraded.
The question is not only how would community members learn about the varied services nonprofits in their area provide them, but nonprofits would once again become largely invisible.
And what about your foundation’s website?
What if suddenly access to your foundation’s website was degraded? What if Internet Service Providers asked foundations to pay a fee in order to improve access to the organization’s website?
Sounds like a scene out of The Godfather, doesn’t it?
“This is business, not personal.”
Read Vincent Stehle’s recent opinion piece on Net Neutrality in The Chronicle of Philanthropy online.
Check out this truly cool info graphic that explains Net Neutrality visually.
Tim Wu’s website with lots of information on Net Neutrality.