What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems.
A widely cited example of a violation of net neutrality principles was when the Internet service provider Comcast was secretly slowing (colloquially called “throttling”) uploads from peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P) applications using forged packets. Research suggests that a combination of policy instruments will help realize the range of valued political and economic objectives central to the network neutrality debate. Combined with strong public opinion, this has led some governments to regulate broadband Internet services as a public utility, similar to the way electricity, gas and water supply is regulated, along with limiting providers and regulating the options those providers can offer.
The idea of an “open Internet” is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it should be easily accessible to all individuals, companies and organizations. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some observers as closely related to open-source software, a type of software program where the maker allows users access to the code that runs the program, so that users can improve the software or fix “bugs”.
Proponents of net neutrality see this as an important component of an “open Internet”, where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those using the Internet to easily communicate and conduct business and activities without interference from a third party. A “closed Internet” refers to the opposite situation, in which established persons, corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed Internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content. Some countries block certain websites or types of sites and monitor and/or censor Internet use using Internet police, a specialized type of law enforcement or secret police.
Following net neutrality, an ISP will be prohibited from slowing the delivery of a TV show simply because it’s streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP. That doesn’t mean everyone gets the same level of Internet service, as people already pay for different speeds of service.
So who supports net neutrality? Content providers, Apple and Google among them, support net neutrality. More than 4 million people filed public comments with the FCC about net neutrality, more than any on any issue it has handled.
And who’s against net neutrality? Not surprisingly, over two-dozen broadband companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Cox and Verizon.