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You may have heard the term “Net Neutrality” in the news lately or on your social media newsfeed. But what is it and why does it matter to you? The long-standing debate could eventually affect you and the way you use the internet.

In 2003 an associate professor at University of Virginia Law School, Tim Wu, coined the term “network neutrality” in a paper about online discrimination. Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking products or websites and without throttling speeds to keep users from accessing them. In a nutshell, it means that as a consumer you can access any site and service you want without any restrictions.

Wu presented examples of restrictions that large cable and telecom companies could enable such as limitations on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), limits on the types of equipment subscribers can attach to the network, and additional charges for certain forms of applications. Net neutrality prevents those large companies from being able to implement these restrictions on internet users.

For internet-based companies such as Netflix, Hulu, Google, Skype, Zoom, and Facebook, net neutrality is essential as their business relies on users getting unrestricted access to the web. However, net neutrality does not work in favor of big cable and telecom companies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has historically protected net neutrality, but changes within the White House Administration potentially affect FCC rulings. You can learn about the recent rulings here.

When it comes to net neutrality and how it could potentially affect you, it is best to stay informed. For a deeper dive into the future and history of net neutrality, check out WIRED.