What Is Net Neutrality? Policies and Controversy

What Is Net Neutrality?

Network neutrality ensures that all data on the internet is treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs) and governments, regardless of content, user, platform, application, or device.

For users, net neutrality enables access and transparency of internet content and allows access to all internet services and applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Network neutrality ensures that all data on the internet is treated equally by ISPs and governments, regardless of content, user, platform, application, or device.
  • Net neutrality policy discussions target issues such as blocking or filtering online content, and preferential internet speeds based on business agreements.
  • U.S. net neutrality laws were enacted by the Obama administration in 2015 and repealed by the Trump administration in 2018.
  • The Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act was introduced in July 2022 and would give the FCC tools to protect the free and open internet and create a just broadband future for everyone in the United States.

Understanding Net Neutrality

Net neutrality argues that the internet should be accessible to everyone and requires all ISPs to provide the same level of data access and speed to all traffic and traffic to one service or website cannot be blocked or degraded.

Coined by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, net neutrality is used as a broad label in internet public policy and regulatory discussions concerning online freedom of expression, competition of service, innovation, pricing, and internet traffic management.

Policy discussions both for and against net neutrality regulation target issues such as blocking or filtering online content, preferential internet speeds based on business agreements, throttling to limit user upload and download rates, and market competition and innovation to offer consumers the best choice of ISP.

Net Neutrality Policies

The Obama Administration advanced net neutrality legislation in 2015 and enacted rules that barred ISPs such as AT&T and Comcast from deliberately speeding up or slowing down traffic to or from specific websites based on demand or business preferences.

However, in 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under President Trump, eliminated all net neutrality protections and renounced its authority over broadband, but allowed states to implement their own open internet rules.

In July 2022, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Representative Doris Matsui (CA-06) introduced the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, legislation that would classify broadband internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the FCC the appropriate authority to reinstate net neutrality protections. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for an accessible and just broadband future and the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act gives the FCC the authority to prohibit discriminatory practices like blocking, throttling, paid prioritization online, and the ability to enact effective broadband policies that enhance public safety, increase accessibility and protect consumers. 

Net Neutrality Discussion

There are opposing opinions concerning net neutrality and acceptable internet management activities and those which are overreaching and result in discrimination against both users and content providers.

Arguments for Net Neutrality

• Network neutrality does not allow ISPs to determine the speed at which consumers can access specific websites or services and smaller companies will be more likely to enter the market and create new services.

• Net neutrality ensures an open internet if mandated by law in the U.S. and prevents broadband providers from practicing data discrimination as a competitive tactic.

• Human rights organizations, consumer rights advocates, and software companies argue that cable companies should be classified as "common carriers," like public utility companies or public transportation providers, who are forbidden by law from discriminating among their users.

Criticism of Net Neutrality

• Forcing ISPs to treat all traffic equally the government will ultimately discourage the investment in new infrastructure, and will also create a disincentive for ISPs to innovate.

• Conservative think tanks, hardware companies, and major telecommunication providers are popular critics of net neutrality.

• ISPs argue that tiered prices allow them to remain competitive and generate funds needed for further innovation and expansion of broadband networks, as well as to recoup the costs already invested in broadband.

Example of Net Neutrality

Following the 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules, several violations were studied including:

• YouTube and Netflix were slowed by wireless carriers, using a fraction of the available speed.

• Verizon’s throttling of services affected the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s ability to provide emergency services during the California wildfires.

• Comcast introduced new speed limits where videos will be throttled to 480p on all its mobile plans unless customers pay extra.

What Is Net Neutrality and Why Is It Important?

Net neutrality is the concept that states that organizations, such as Internet service providers, should treat all data on the internet equally. Proponents argue it promotes a free and open internet, where users can access content without restriction, provided the content does not violate any laws.

Does the UK Have Net Neutrality?

The European Union (EU) formed regulations to promote and protect an open internet, preventing internet service providers from restricting and blocking users' access to lawful content. Certain exceptions, such as the ability to slow traffic at the request of a court order, apply.

Is There Net Neutrality in India?

In 2017, India developed some of the strictest net neutrality laws in the world. Policymakers and Indian activists, with a desire to promote an open internet and widespread internet access to the nation's citizens, advocated together for net neutrality laws. Service providers who violate these regulations face losing their license to operate.

The Bottom Line

Net neutrality seeks to promote an open and free internet, unencumbered by service providers and other organizations. Regulations and policies regarding net neutrality have been debated for several years with policies and changes enacted since 2015.

Article Sources
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  1. Senator Ed Markey. "Senators Markey, Wyden, and Rep. Matsui Introduce Legislation to Reinstate Net Neutrality, Reverse Damaging Trump-Era Deregulation."

  2. Internet Society. "Policy Brief: Network Neutrality."

  3. FCC. "Chairman Pai Statement on Victory in D.C. Circuit."

  4. Wired magazine. "The WIRED Guide to Net Neutrality."

  5. U.S. Government Publishing Office. "Why Net Neutrality Matters: Protecting Consumers and Competition Through Meaningful Open Internet Rules."

  6. Consumer Reports. "Understanding the Fight Over Net Neutrality."

  7. Bloomberg. "YouTube, Netflix Found to Be Slowed by Wireless Carriers."

  8. Public Knowledge. "Broadband Providers Are Quietly Taking Advantage of an Internet Without Net Neutrality Protections."

  9. ISPreview. "EU Telecoms Regulators Publish Final Net Neutrality Guidelines."

  10. CNN Money. "India now has the 'world's strongest' net neutrality rules."

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