What is Network Neutrality?

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The FCC has begun the process of revising its rules on net neutrality. These rules could have a huge impact on every consumer who uses the Internet, as well as every company, large and small, that does business online.

What is Network Neutrality?

Network neutrality is a fancy way of saying the networks that deliver the Internet should treat all content, sites, and applications equally and shouldn’t discriminate against certain traffic based on its source, destination or message. The basic idea is the Internet should be open so consumers have unrestricted access to lawful Web sites and online businesses can compete freely.

Some Internet service providers want to give preferential treatment to certain network traffic –for example, their own content or that of those willing to pay extra fees. Without network neutrality Internet service providers could block or slow down traffic to any Web sites or services they choose. Services, such as making free or cheap phone calls over the Internet, or streaming video, could be blocked. So could the sharing of lawful media content or access to certain political content.

What is at stake for consumers?

Allowing Internet service providers to pick and choose which Web sites and features they favor would hurt the free and aggressive competition that is vital to a healthy consumer marketplace. No consumer should be punished with a slower download speeds or face steep price tags to view, access or share lawful content based on the whims of service providers. Web sites and online businesses should succeed or fail based on their ability to provide competitive prices and quality services. Not because they can’t afford to pay a special fee or don’t have the market power to cut a deal with a service provider.

What are the next steps?

The Obama Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as well as members of Congress from both parties, have endorsed the idea of an open Internet.

Recently, FCC Chairman Genachowski announced plans for the Commission to codify and make two additions to the agency’s Internet “principles”, which articulate the values of network neutrality, but may lack the full weight and obligations of law. Genachowski has stated net neutrality rules should be applied across all platforms for accessing the Internet, including wireless services. The proposed rules would place constraints on network providers’ ability to discriminate against the content and destination of traffic sent over the Internet providing clarity and consistency to the online marketplace.

On October 22, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), asking specific questions regarding how the rules should be written and applied and asking the public to comment over the next several months. After the comment period closes, the five FCC Commissioners will vote on the final rule.