Net Neutrality

Background

Net neutrality is the principle that companies providing internet services, known as internet service providers (ISPs), should treat all data that travels over their networks the same. Without it, these companies can act as gatekeepers of the internet. They can potentially block or degrade consumers’ access to certain online content or services. For example, they could give preference to their own content. ISPs could also potentially charge content providers and online retailers extra fees to ensure their data streams flow to consumers faster and more reliably than their competitors’ data streams.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) previously had a strong net neutrality rule, which the courts had upheld. But the FCC reversed the net neutrality rule in 2018. In 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the 2018 FCC reversal. But the appeals court struck down a provision that blocked states from adopting stronger net neutrality laws as long as those laws do not directly conflict with federal regulations. The appeals court ruling cleared the way for a California net neutrality law, passed in 2018, and other state laws to go into effect. In December 2019, technology companies and others petitioned for rehearing on the appeals court order.

The debate over net neutrality rules has been over whether broadband internet access should be classified as an “information service” under Title I of the Communications Act or as a “telecommunication service” Under Title II. This distinction matters because a telecommunications service classification means that ISPs are common carriers that must serve all customers on a nondiscriminatory basis, while information services are exempt from common-carrier regulations. Under the previous net neutrality rule, the FCC decided that broadband access is a telecommunications service under Title II. When it reversed course, the FCC decided to classify broadband access as an information service under Title I. This repealed net neutrality.

NET NEUTRALITY: Policy

Equal access to online content for all

Federal policymakers should ensure network neutrality by at a minimum reinstating  the Federal Communication Commission’s 2015 rules for “network neutrality.” State policymakers should likewise put in place laws and regulations that ensure network neutrality and are at least as strong as the 2015 FCC rules.