Net neutrality hit the headlines recently when in the US the FCC approved a plan to abandon it. It could mean end of free speech and the open internet, but could the solution be VPNs?
What is net neutrality?
It basically means that all internet traffic is treated equally, whether it is from a billion dollar company or a blogger with a laptop at home. You are entitled to access every website and web service and internet service providers cannot limit what you can access, cannot charge more for one type of traffic than another, or favour one type over another.
Without net neutrality the worry is that internet service providers will either limit what we see or charge for certain websites or services. In theory, they could charge more to let you watch Netflix, arguing that it uses so much bandwidth. They could also block websites and services that compete with their own.
This is what might happen and what could happen, and we don’t know whether it really will happen. Wikipedia has a good page on net neutrality if more information is required.
It is a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of limited access to the internet and to think of ways around the problem. If your internet provider blocks access to certain websites and services, what can you do?
This already happens in some parts of the world and free speech is not possible everywhere. Some countries already limit what you can access online for various reasons. What do people do to get around the problem?
Circumvent internet restrictions with a VPN
One of the ways of bypassing limitations on what you can access online is by using a VPN – a virtual private network. When VPN software is installed on the computer and activated, it creates an encrypted connection to someplace else on the internet. It is a sort of tunnel to a place where there are no restrictions. It could even be in another country.
A simple example of the problems that can be caused by internet restrictions can be seen at public Wi-Fi hotspots. Some have filters that severely limit what you can access. I have used public Wi-Fi that limited me to Google, Facebook and a handful of other sites. Anything beyond those was blocked and it was so bad I could not access work files.
Fortunately, a VPN connection could be established and this enabled full access to the internet with no restrictions. I could then access the sites I needed and, most importantly, access my work.
The loss of net neutrality could result in a similar situation and if internet providers block access to sites and services, a VPN could be used to bypass the blocks and access the content you need.
Get a VPN and unlock the internet
If you don’t yet have a VPN, you might want to consider it, because it could be essential in the future. Of course, a VPN isn’t just for getting around content barriers, it also adds a layer of privacy and security that is essential at public Wi-Fi hotspots where it is possible for hackers to eavesdrop on your internet activity. A VPN stops that.
A good free VPN is built into the Opera web browser and you just click the button at the left side of the address box to turn it on. It secures the browser and makes web browsing private, but it does not provide any advantage to software outside of the browser window, such as email software and other internet enabled apps.
To get full protection for every app that accesses the internet you need a proper VPN. They cost money, but you can get some great deals if you are prepared to go for a one or better still, a two-year deal. Take a look at NordVPN and PureVPN (affiliate links), they are cheap and work well.
I keep a copy of NordVPN on my computers and phone for those occasions when I want to get around public Wi-Fi filters and get work done. It also provides security in public too.
The way net neutrality is going, it might be needed at home and work if internet providers start limiting what you can access on the web. That’s a scary thought.