Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect recent developments in Washington.
"the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites." (Wikipedia)
While Netflix and Google are obviously big companies, a lack of net neutrality won't kill them. It may shave some margin off their balance sheet, but they'll be fine. Trust me.
For small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs, however, net neutrality is a life or death issue. To explain why, here's a simple analogy.
Imagine your dream has always been to open a hair salon. You rent a storefront, set up shop and put up signage to attract people into the shop.
Two weeks later, SuperCuts opens a shop on the next block. Now, that's not ideal for your business but you were smart enough to make certain that your salon name and your signage positions you as a higher end salon.
The next day, you drive into your salon, and you discover that Supercuts has put up a hundred signs up and down the street, so that your signage is all but invisible. Now it doesn't matter how you've positioned your salon. You might as well give up.
Disasters like that don't happen, though, because (well-run) towns and cities always have zoning laws that limit signage. This creates a level playing field where one company can't dominate the view from the street.
Net neutrality is like those zoning laws but on the Web. It keeps big companies with deep pockets from making smaller competitors invisible online.
Without net neutrality, Internet Server Providers (ISPs) will inevitably favor companies that pay them extra, allowing your big competitors to your website virtually invisible... even to local people searching for it.
Similarly, an ISP could throttle bandwidth down so that it takes 10 minutes for your website to load. And then demand $100 a day from you to "fix" the problem.
Yes, ISPs claim that they're not going to do that. However, because they're publicly held, ISPs are legally bound to take every (legal) action possible to increase shareholder value.
And that includes taking payments from companies that want to your website to "disappear" and demanding protection money from you to ensure your website remains usable.
Just to be clear, if ISPs can bypass net neutrality, they won't just BE ABLE to use throttling to increase their revenue, they MUST DO SO or face shareholder lawsuits. The only thing keeping ISPs from doing this is the government enforcement of net neutrality.
Look, in a world increasingly dominated by huge monopolies, the Internet is the last place where entrepreneurs have even a ghost of a chance of winning against the huge monopolies that increasingly dominate the business world.