What Is the Net Neutrality Debate?

by Ashley Poland
Without Net neutrality rules, an ISP could hinder your access to major services.

Without Net neutrality rules, an ISP could hinder your access to major services.

In a nutshell, the idea of Net neutrality is that Internet Service Providers cannot limit your access to legal content or use their network to hinder legal websites. Under Net neutrality rules suggested by the FCC, ISPs also cannot block any device on your network as long as it does not cause harm to the network. The debate aspect of Net neutrality is in whether of not FCC Net neutrality regulation inhibits the development of new technology and hinders ISPs.


As of publication, the Internet you use is completely open and without any interference from your ISP -- for whatever monthly rate you pay, you can access any legal website or application. However, without Net neutrality legislation, ISPs could potentially choose to charge different rates for access to different services, or simply block certain services altogether, such as what happened in 2008 when Comcast was caught slowing down service to users who ran peer-to-peer sharing programs. The result of not having any Net neutrality rules could be that certain websites won't make it through the filter of your ISP at all, subject to the ruling of the company. This doesn't necessarily mean that your ISP will do that, but simply that the barrier against doing so would be removed.


Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC as of publication, initially suggested six aspects to the Net neutrality legislation. In 2010, it passed that an ISP could not block or discriminate against legal services or websites, and that the ISP must be transparent about its networking practices. However, ISPs are allowed to provide different prices for different tiers of use. In 2012, the Internet at large fought against SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that sought to kill piracy websites by forcing U.S. websites -- specifically those overseas -- to remove links to and support for websites that violated copyright. The form of censorship the bill implied was considered by many to be a threat to Net neutrality.


The Internet is full of supporters of Net neutrality who believe that allowing ISPs greater control over what websites make it through threatens the very freedom of the open Internet. Some of the most notable are Google and President Barack Obama. Both have stated that the Internet as it stands allows for freedom of information and communication. Many celebrities and application developers also support Net neutrality.


Opponents of Net neutrality law are those in the position to lose the most from the legislation, and those who believe that governments should keep their hands off managing the Internet. In 2009, the CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, stated that FCC Net neutrality regulations would inhibit ISPs from making money and managing their networks. Seidenberg also stated that "proponents (of Net neutrality) have a worldview that network providers and application providers, like Google, occupy different parts of the Internet," which he went on to say was untrue. Other opponents of Net neutrality regulation include major ISPs like AT&T and Comcast, and pioneers of the Internet Bob Kahn and Dave Farber.

About the Author

Ashley Poland has been writing since 2009. She has worked with local online businesses, supplying print and web content, and pursues an active interest in the computer, technology and gaming industries. In addition to content writing, Poland is also a fiction writer. She studied creative writing at Kansas State University.

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