AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to explore net neutrality now through metaphor. Stick with us. According to the FCC, they're writing rules for the Internet to preserve the status quo.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The FCC website says this - the open Internet is the Internet as we know it. It treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way. Well, some people fear providers could change the flow by charging more for certain businesses.
CORNISH: But it's a complicated issue and net neutrality is not a scintillating term, as even the man who coined it admits.
TIM WU: You know, I kind of agree it's boring.
CORNISH: Tim Wu of Columbia Law school is running for lieutenant governor of New York. But he's most well-known because he coined the term net neutrality.
WU: Ultimately, you judge a phrase not by whether it sounds great the first time you hear it but whether it seems to stick around. And like it or not, net neutrality has stuck around.
SIEGEL: Another advocate for net neutrality is Tim Karr.
TIM KARR: Well, you know, I've had people wonder whether or not I'm talking about, you know, tennis in Switzerland.
CORNISH: Get it? Net - neutrality. Tennis - Switzerland.
SIEGEL: Well, Tim Karr of the organization Free Press says there are lots of metaphors to explain net neutrality. You've probably heard this one - the highway.
KARR: What the Internet service providers are proposing to do is that they want to set up a fast lane and a slow lane on the Internet. They want to have a fast lane for the few companies that can afford their tolls. And then they want a slow lane for the rest of us.
SIEGEL: Well, here's another metaphor. Picture a fully clothed man in the shower.
HANK GREEN: And the Internet - it falls into my house. This water - this nourishing water is everything.
SIEGEL: He gets very, very wet.
GREEN: Let's just turn down the knob some on what they can do on the Internet.
CORNISH: OK. As found on YouTube - the shower metaphor. But Berin Szoka, president of the think tank TechFreedom, says we should avoid metaphors altogether.
BERIN SZOKA: The beauty of the Internet really is that it defies metaphor. It is constantly evolving. It's hard to put that in a box.
CORNISH: Szoka argues the metaphors are all biased, even Net Neutrality, he says, is bias against internet providers. He prefers Open Internet.
SIEGEL: Well, whatever you call it, Tim Wu says you can't control what catches on.
WU: That's what I've learned in life. You just throw things up like spaghetti and see if anything sticks.
CORNISH: Ah, Spaghetti. You can't beat a good food metaphor. But if you have a better one for net neutrality, tweet it to us @npralltech.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.