Today, the Internet in most places operates under a policy of "net neutrality"—the idea that all data flowing through the Internet should be treated equally. That may be about to change in the United States. Early this year, a Washington, D.C., Circuit Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently has no authority to enforce network neutrality rules. And this spring, the FCC proposed new rules to govern Internet traffic that would allow broadband providers to charge for access to a “fast” Internet lane, relegating other content to a “slow” lane.
There’s a huge debate going on in the U.S. about whether continuing net neutrality is a good or bad thing. Generally, Silicon Valley companies think it’s good, because it allows start-ups and established companies equal access to the Internet; on the other side are Internet service providers who would prefer to be able to charge for preferred access or give their own content priority.
But the term “net neutrality” itself can get in the way of the debate. Comedian John Oliver charged that the term is being used intentionally to bore people, so they won’t pay attention to the importance of the issue.
And the phrase can be confusing as well as boring. To someone just coming into the discussion, does “net neutrality” imply that the Government should or shouldn’t pass laws regulating traffic on the Internet? (For example, it might seem that a “neutral” government wouldn’t pass laws regulating the Internet, but maintaining net neutrality in the U.S. is going to require regulation.)
Silicon Valley Congresswoman Anna Eshoo says its time to dump "net neutrality" and replace it with something more descriptive and energizing. People know what kind of Internet they want, she says, but, with confusing buzzwords flying around, they have no idea which set of phrases describes their desired outcome.
But what to call it? She’s crowdsourcing that answer by launching a contest on Reddit aimed at rebranding net neutrality. Suggestions so far include “Net Equality,” “Freedom to Connect,” the “Equal Data Act,” the “Digital Anti-Discrimination Act,” “One Free Internet,” the “Digital Freedom Act,” the “Toll-Free Internet,” “Unaltered Universal Internet Access,” the “Fair and Equal Internet Act,” the “FairNet,” and “The Old MacDonald Act: Equal Internet for Everyone Involved Online (EIEIO).”
The contest is open now; the winner will be declared on 8 September. Do share your thoughts in the comments below, but make sure to enter your suggestions in the contest as well.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.