Net neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that data packets on the Internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source. Net neutrality is sometimes referred to as the "First Amendment of the Internet."

In the United States, high-speed Internet service providers (ISPs), including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, have sought support for a two-tiered Internet service model. In a two-tiered model, providers would be able to charge content providers a premium fee for priority placement and faster speed across their pipes. Proponents of the two-tiered model point out that a tiered business model already exists: consumers have a choice of using a slower dial-up service or paying a premium price for faster speed over cable or DSL and Internet service providers already prioritize traffic for quality of service (QoS). They maintain that legislating the Internet would be an unnecessary barrier to innovation and economic growth.

Although no country is in charge of regulating the Internet, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has considerable influence. In 2010, the FCC extended carrier network rules to Internet Service Providers, requiring them to offer fair and equal access to the Internet for all content, as long as the content is legal.

The FCC's 2010 ruling held broadband providers to the same standards as telecom carriers in the United States, which have to offer equal-access telephone lines. Early in 2014, however, a Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to extend carrier network rules to ISPs and people began to speculate about whether or not the FCC would use its power to reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service.

Proponents of reclassification believed it was a simple solution that would give the FCC the power to legally enforce common carrier rules and therefore, Net neutrality. Opponents pointed out that if the FCC reclassified Internet service as a telecommunications service, it would essentially turn the Internet in the United States into a utility and give the government power to regulate the Internet.

In February of 2015, the FCC did indeed reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The reclassification makes broadband Internet in the United States a regulated utility, subject to the same regulations as landline phone service, water and electricity. Opponents have said they plan to challenge the FCC's authority in court because the market, not the government, should determine the future of the Internet.


This was first published in February 2015

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