How To Explain Net Neutrality To A 5 Year-Old

Imagine for a second that you are an independent taxi driver in a far away town called Gidan.

All the roads in Gidan are owned by a handful of big companies and each company has the power to determine how fast each individual taxi is allowed to go on the road.

For instance, one company, Contoso, which owns more than one-third of the roads in Gidan might only let you and every other driver that does not pay it any money or does not have any partnerships with it drive at a maximum of 10 mph on its roads.

Contoso also doesn't like some taxi cab owners so it doesn't let the cabs owned by such people operate on its roads at all, or it caps the speed at which taxis such people own can drive on its roads at 1 mph (snail pace).

Taxi cab owners can pay Contoso and other road owners to let them increase the speed at which the taxis they own can drive on each road.

There are some big shot cab owners who pay Contoso tons of cash to establish big partnerships with Contoso and in turn Contoso lets the cabs they own drive at up to 50 mph on Contoso’s roads.

Remember that you have to compete with these cabs with 50 mph speed caps for the same passengers, but you can’t really afford to pay Contoso the kind of money it takes to let you drive you car faster than the default 10 mph.

No matter how awesome your taxi service is, and no matter how friendly you are, when given the option, passengers will still probably pick the cabs that can drive up to 50 mph above your cab which has a speed cap of 10 mph because they want to get to their destination 5x faster.

Also the owners of Contoso decide to get into the limousine business.

So they let the limos they own drive without a cap on the speed that they can transport passengers at and they cap the speed at which any other limousine on their roads can drive at 20 mph, and this limit includes even vehicles whose owners pay extra to let their cars move at faster speeds because they would ideally want the vehicles they own to have an advantage over the other limousines on the road seeing as they are competing for the same customers.

Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.”

The above Taxi cab illustration is what the internet without net neutrality would be like.

If Gidan had the equivalent of net neutrality for roads, every taxi driver would legally be able to drive at the same speed, and no driver could pay the road owners to give them and unfair speed cap advantage over other cab drivers on the road, and the road owner would not be able to give their limousines an unfair speed advantage.

Technology companies that need to deliver services to customers via the world wide web and that do not have important partnerships with ISPs would be unfairly disadvantaged if they are in competition with companies that provide similar services and have partnerships with ISPs.

Imagine if back in 2005 Tom from MySpace had partnered with Comcast & ATT to make his site load 10x faster than Facebook. Consumers would have stuck to MySpace, and Facebook would not be the behemoth it is today.

No one would care that there was a fundamentally better product behind the extremely long page load times for Facebook, consumers would mostly care that Facebook pages loaded 10x slower than MySpace pages.

Also most ISPs own VOD storefronts as part of their cable offerings, and companies like Netflix & Amazon Instant Video have been eating into the earnings from such storefronts over the last couple of years.

What stops them from making Netflix streaming speeds painfully slow?

Slow enough to convince you to move your dollars away from your Netflix & Amazon Prime subscriptions, and back into the VOD storefront that you abandoned a couple of years ago.

According to this article, ISPs will not be able to completely block websites, but they would be able to make certain web services load slowly enough to frustrate you away, just like the taxi cabs in the example above that had a 1 mph speed cap.

Historically, the openness of the web and the underlying technology and services that power it has been one of the core attractions of the modern internet, so much so that a little online store built by a college student can dare to compete with behemoths like Amazon & Ebay.

This is why over the course of the last 20+ years we have seen 500 pound gorillas with sub-par services, repeatedly trumped by the little guys with superior products.

Without net neutrality, the little guys would be unfairly disadvantaged against the incumbent giants.

Someone on the internet made this representation of what your ISPs internet service plans could look like without net neutrality, which not completely accurate it is an interesting visual:

Hypothetical ISP Plans without Net Neutrality Hypothetical ISP Plans without Net Neutrality