Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications equally, regardless of the source, without favoring or blocking particular online services or websites. It is the principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet.

Net neutrality rules were established by the FCC in their 2010 Open Internet Order. These rules prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon from blocking or discriminating against certain online services.

The FCC enacted the Open Internet Order in 2010 in order to prevent large telecommunications firms like Verizon and Comcast from stifling competition and innovation online. The agency wrote in the Order that the net neutrality rules were intended to “preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.”

Without net neutrality rules in place, ISPs can prevent users from visiting some websites, provide slower speeds for services like Netflix and Hulu, or even redirect users from one website to a competing website. Net neutrality rules prevent this by requiring ISPs to connect users to all lawful content on the internet equally, without giving preferential treatment to certain sites or services.

In the absense of net neutrality, companies can buy priority access to ISP customers. Larger, wealthier companies like Google or Facebook can pay ISPs to provide faster, more reliable access to their websites than to potential competitors. This could deter innovative start-up services that are unable to purchase priority access from the ISPs. Also, if ISPs can charge online services to connect to consumers, consumers would ultimately bear these additional costs (for example, on their monthly Netflix bill or in the cost of products from a local online store).

In January 2014, as a result of a Verizon lawsuit, the DC District Court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules. While the Court made clear that the FCC has authority over internet access generally, it found that the open internet rules specifically were built on a flawed legal foundation. The decision left it open for the FCC to decide what to do next to reestablish net neutrality.

In April 2014, press reports leaked that the FCC had new net neutrality proposal. The proposal reportedly did prevent ISPs from blocking or discriminating against websites, but as part of the new rules, ISPs would be able to charge companies for preferential treatment if they deemed it "commercially reasonable". The discriminatory commercial reasonableness standard opened up the internet to have fast lanes for some online services and slow lanes for others, allowing ISPs to impose a new price of entry for online innovation. This leaked proposal resulted in siginicant public outcry from the public, policymakers, and members of the media.

At the FCC's Open Meeting in May 2014, the Commission introduced their proposal for net neutrality rules, which discuss the problems that occur when ISPs get to choose winners and losers online, but still allow for fast lanes and slow lanes online, and do not go far enough to establish meaningful net neutrality. The first round of comments were due to the FCC on July 18, 2014. The public may submit reply comments through September 10, 2014.

PK is fighting for Title II reclassification of internet to a telecommunications service, instead of the outdated current classification of information service. This reclassification is the only way forward for FCC to have the authority to enforce net neutrality rules, which will allow customers to have a reasonable expectation of consistent, reliable, and nondiscriminatory services.

In our comments to the FCC, we explain why the Commission must protect a single, open, and neutral internet.  That means that it should not create special wireless internet rules that turn wireless into a second class experience – especially because wireless connections disproportionately serve as the only link between traditionally underserved communities and the internet.

We also explain why the  Commission’s current proposed rules are so problematic.  By relying on its Section 706 authority, the Commission is forced to choose between two options: create strong open internet rules that are likely to be struck down in court, or settle for weak net neutrality rules that may survive court challenge but will not actually protect an open internet.  Neither of these options will work. That is why relying on Title II authority is so important.

The comments also highlight the important role that data caps play in the net neutrality debate.  Fast lanes and slow lanes are one way to break the open internet, but capped lanes and uncapped lanes can achieve the same result.  We have already seen Comcast, AT&T, and T-Mobile use data caps to insert themselves as gatekeepers of the internet.  It is important for the FCC to recognize that discrimination by cap can be just as problematic as discrimination by speed.

To learn more:

View our net neutrality timeline.

Learn about our comments to the FCC for the net neutrality proceeding.

Listen to our podcast episode about what to expect for net neutrality this summer.

Read our blog post about the FCC proposal entitled "How the FCC's Proposed Fast Lanes Would Actually Work".


Here are the PK experts on this issue:

Be A PK DIY'er and Donate Any Amount


Choose the amount you would like to donate to help support public knowledge

The Latest