Let’s answer readers’ questions about net neutrality

The debate over net neutrality on the Internet has burbled for several years, but it made big news Monday when President Obama weighed in on the topic.

Reaction on Twitter and on news sites was swift. At times, it revealed that many people are unclear on what net neutrality is and how it affects how they get information and entertainment online. Here’s a sampling of reader comments:

  • “Just wait until internet free speech is ‘regulated’ by government. And anyone who speaks up against government mysteriously has their internet disconnect and blogs erased.”
  • “This would give government full control to see every single thought we have in emails, in what we research, and our private conversations.”

Neither of those assertions is true, but net neutrality is hard to understand. (This clip from John Oliver’s HBO show is helpful in its comedic way.)

Most traditional publications wrote and edited the story about Obama’s announcement in the inverted pyramid form. Many of these stories (like this one) are presented in an entirely political context.

For a complicated topic like net neutrality, however, I would suggest a “frequently asked questions” format. Research has shown that readers retain more information when it’s presented in alternative ways.

This story from The Associated Press is a start. I’d like to see it fleshed out: who are the stakeholders? What do they stand to win or lose?

That kind of reporting and editing can advance the debate and minimize confusion about Internet policy. It may be impossible to eliminate political rhetoric on this issue, but it can at least serve as a counter to it.