What Does Net Neutrality Mean?

Cyber security, privacy, regulation, and ease of access remain complex to balance.

The term “net neutrality” was coined in 2003 and based upon the idea of a common carrier for Internet and related telecommunications services. In short, net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be an open source of information for all service customers and that the content moving from servers to home equipment should be treated equally and without discrimination. This means that internet service providers (ISP) should give equal access to all legal content on the internet. Additionally, net neutrality does not allow ISPs to charge content creators more in order to deliver their content more quickly. It ensures that all content on the internet will be treated equally by ISPs.

History of Net Neutrality

As previously mentioned, the term was first introduced in 2003 by Tim Wu, a media law professor at Columbia University. However, the concept has existed in telecommunications practice since the 1980’s. During this time, arguments over the telecommunications industry questioned whether phone service companies should have an obligation to the consumer or to shareholders.

By the late 1990’s, the internet became a common household product, and arguments arose over internet protection and service competition. This gave way to the idea of net neutrality, which spread throughout several countries. In the United States, the idea was not readily accepted by all corporations, and these organizations began to lobby Congress, both for and against it, between 2005 and 2006. In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigated one internet provider for blocking voice over IP service. The company was forced to make a payment to the US Treasury. The FCC began to focus on enforcing net neutrality.

In 2007, the internet, cable, and phone provider Comcast was accused of blocking and delaying BitTorrent files. The two organizations came to an agreement and Comcast paid a fine for its behavior. However, the FCC decided in the following year to find Comcast guilty of illegally blocking its users of the full, high-speed internet service they were paying for. The FCC ordered Comcast to stop this action and thus set a precedent for future internet service providers.

In 2010, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order, which made it illegal for cable and phone companies to block access to websites that might offer a similar service, such as Netflix, for example. In 2014, the Circuit Court of Washington, DC determined that the FCC had no authority to enforce net neutrality on Verizon Communications. The Court claimed the Verizon Communications was an internet service provider and not a common carrier. In 2015, the FCC retaliated and reclassified internet service providers as common carriers in order to enforce net neutrality.

Relevance of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is considered advantageous by several technological corporations and their consumers. Telecommunication companies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T oppose the regulation, claiming that it will create an obstacle for investment and growth. Several countries around the world have implemented net neutrality laws, including Chile, India, Canada, Singapore, the Netherlands, and the European Union.

Cyber Security and Net Neutrality

Around the world, governments have reached agreements in their attempts to protect their countries from cyber threats. On several instances, government files, e-mails, and documents have been hacked, altered, and exposed to the rest of the world and viruses have been introduced to business and home computers. Various major world governments, including those of Russia, the United States, and China, have reached cyber-confidence agreements, promising to inform each other about cyber risks and threats. Some individuals believe that net neutrality breaks these cyber-confidence agreements. This is because internet companies often filter illegal content, which means the internet companies are recording and stopping some potentially dangerous content from coming through. Some net neutrality opponents believe that this law could prohibit these companies from protecting cyber security.


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