What Is Net Neutrality?

by Modis on August 28, 2017

The term net neutrality was first introduced to the world by Tim Wu, a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, in an essay he wrote in 2002. In January 2015, net neutrality was implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a result of what was considered to be unfair practices by a few large ISPs. The FCC’s 400-page document was created ruling that all internet traffic or data should be treated equally and fairly by all internet service providers (ISPs). The document on net neutrality outlined how all ISPs would be unable to block or reduce bandwidth for some content and not others, it also outlines how ISPs could not set a higher priority for some company’s downloads or impose fees on companies to permit them to increase download speeds. Net neutrality ultimately is also aimed at allowing everyone and anyone to practice freedom of speech using the internet, without ISPs having the ability to impede or impact freedoms.

Here are the three primary rules around net neutrality:

  1. Non-paid prioritization. This means ISPs are not permitted to accept payment from companies or individuals in exchange for preferential treatment or better service.
  2. Anti-throttling. This means ISPs are prohibited from reducing the speed of applications or services solely based on who the sender is.
  3. Anti-blocking. Meaning ISPs are not permitted to block any legitimate and legal data, applications or devices unless deemed harmful.

ISPs are still permitted to block email spam, block traffic deemed to be an attack and redirect traffic if to optimize bandwidth and improve service levels. That said, ISPs must take care not to be deemed as targeting specific sources only.

There is still much discussion around net neutrality and many companies and individuals who are in favor of net neutrality, as well as those who oppose it.

Possible reasons to support or oppose net neutrality

  • Some may support this ruling, since net neutrality only applies to the portion of ISP’s network that provides the actual service, yet not the consumer’s portion. This means there is no impact to a consumer’s choice of product or service.
  • It’s believed net neutrality offers a way to ensure an even playing field for all consumers, regardless of service, political view, industry, company size, etc.
  • Some are of the opinion net neutrality maintains a balance of power and keeps consumers in control of their content instead of leaving it up to ISPs.
  • Net neutrality is thought to be aimed at reducing bias and allow the free flow of information to all.
  • Some may be opposed to net neutrality and believe it limits an ISP’s ability to manage or handle internet traffic in an efficient or effective manner.
  • There are those who believe the government should not intervene in how ISPs operate as a business.
  • Some are also of the opinion that net neutrality will make it even more difficult for small ISPs to survive because of reporting and compliance requirements, while others report no change in this area.

It’s important to note that ISPs are still allowed to introduce new tiered pricing services without having to obtain approval from the FCC first. This is different from ISPs having the power to impose bandwidth restrictions at will, especially as competition decreases through mergers and acquisitions.

Discussions are bound to continue around net neutrality and its pros and cons; the FCC has encouraged public participation through its comments process via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System in WC Docket No. 17-108. Find out more about the history and future of net neutrality from the FCC.


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