Definition

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 carriers, including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, are seeking legislative support for a two-tiered Internet service model. In a two-tiered model, carriers would be able to charge owners of Web sites a premium fee for priority placement and faster speed across their pipes. Those opposing the carriers argue that the Internet was designed to work in a traffic-neutral way and has become what it is, to some extent, because of that neutrality. They would like to see Congress pass a telecom reform bill that contains language in favor of Net neutrality.

Critics of the two-tiered model fear that the extra costs incurred for premium service would be passed down to the consumer in fees for sites, applications and services. They point out that small, independent sites, such as personal blogs, are on an even playing field with large, corporately-owned sites in a Net-neutral environment but might be unable to compete in a tiered service model. Editors at the popular SaveTheInternet.com Web site explain, "The Internet has thrived because revolutionary ideas like blogs, Wikipedia or Google could be started on a shoestring and attract huge audiences simply because their users found the sites valuable. Without Net neutrality the pipeline owners will choose the winners and losers on the Web."

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. Providers argue that if that two-tiered business model is applied to site owners as well as users, carriers will be able to offer more services like Internet-based cable TV programming and video at competitive rates. They maintain that legislation protecting Net neutrality would be a unnecessary barrier to the Internet tradition of innovation and free enterprise.

Organizations and individuals that support Net neutrality include Amazon.com, Earthlink, EBay, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Skype, Vonage and Yahoo, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Times, St. Petersburg Times and Christian Science Monitor, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web), Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.

 

 

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This was last updated in November 2009
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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