Net Neutrality is a slogan used to describe intervention in the internet service market that would prevent internet service providers (ISP) from discriminating between different types of content and applications online.
Proponents claim that the market remaining unregulated in this matter will result in consumers and businesses being exploited and discriminated against, stifled competition, and restrictions on entrance into the market. Opponents refute such claims with evidence that in an unregulated ISP market customers and businesses are better served due to increased choice and variety between service providers and plans, competition is fueled by innovation and diversity in how services are priced and implemented, and entrance to the market remains open because ISPs are still vulnerable to under-satisfying their customers if they choose to be restrictive in what content passes through their networks.
Supporters specifically point to discrimination between content of the same type as wrong, as in one video provider paying more for faster access than a competing video provider, though many claim that discrimination between types is acceptable, as in all video providers getting faster access than all social networking sites. But opponents raise the question, how do we define types, and what about sites that transcend the defined types or fit into multiple types?
There has been legislation passed on this matter in several countries, including the United States and Canada.
Legislation in the United States
Regulations were passed by the FCC on 21 December 2010 by a 3-to-2 vote that imposes a set of requirements by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on telecom operators and internet service providers operating in the United States
The regulations shift decision-making about owned resources from the network resource owners to non-owners. The non-owners seeking to influence the decision-making in this and other similar conflicts are sometimes termed "stakeholders."
There are six areas of guidelines:
- Access to content
- Access to applications and services
- Connection of devices
- Access to competitive options
It is not unlikely, however, that proponents of the net neutrality provisions may be reacting to past monopolistic assignments of geographic customer territories, also by the FCC. Many incumbent telecom companies continue to be shielded from competition by FCC regulations.
Excerpts from the FCC "guidelines"
From the news release issued by the FCC on 21 December 2010, the day the FCC voted itself the power to intervene in the operation of the Internet:
Rule 1: Transparency [per the FCC]
A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.
Rule 2: No Blocking [per the FCC]
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.
A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network
Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination [per the FCC]
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.
Select Definitions [per the FCC]
Broadband Internet access service: A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.
Reasonable network management. A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service. Legitimate network management purposes include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by users (including by premise operators), such as by providing services or capabilities consistent with a user’s choices regarding parental controls or security capabilities; and by reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network.
What the FCC news release omitted
The FCC did not acknowledge in its December 2010 news release that the original marketplace intervention that limited transparency and enabled the aforementioned anti-competitive structures and behaviors was the passage by the U.S. Congress of the Communications Act of 1934, along with the predecessor of the FCC, the Federal Radio Commission.
The 1934 act created the FCC, but the FCC neither suggested nor voted that the U.S. Congress de-fund the agency and repeal the 1934 Act to allow a completely unencumbered marketplace for electronic communications. Rather than optimize neutrality by establishing a fully consumer-oriented free market environment, it appears (in late 2010) the U.S. Congress will instead battle with the FCC to determine whose coercive version of Internet control will be implemented.
- Net Neutrality: Unwarranted Intervention by Fernando Herrera-Gonzalez
- Who owns the Internet? by Tim Swanson (May 2006)
- Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet by Raymond C. Niles
- Wave goodbye to Internet freedom, Washington Times editorial, 2 Dec. 2010
- FCC news release of 21 Dec. 2010 (PDF file may be occasionally unavailable, due to internet traffic and other factors)
- Full text (194 pages in PDF format) of the FCC "Report and Order" adopted 21 December 2010; Dissent by commissioner Robert M. McDowell begins on p. 145; Dissent by commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker begins on p. 180
- Short summary of dissents by the 2 commissioners opposing the FCC order, The Technology Liberation Front, 22 Dec. 2010
- The Net Neutrality Debate: Twenty Five Years After United States v. AT&T and 120 Years After the Act to Regulate Commerce by Bruce M. Owen, February 2007
- Network neutrality on Wikipedia