Questions and Answers on Net Neutrality

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is a founding principle of the Internet.  It ensures that all Internet users are able to experience the Internet in a way of their choosing without interference from an Internet service provider (ISP).  Net Neutrality protects your freedom to view websites without restriction, or regulation by the government or ISPs.  It ensures an open Internet marketplace without any discrimination based on site content or financial stipulations.  Net Neutrality is, and always has been, the rule of the road for the Internet.

Who is against Net Neutrality?

Cable and telephone companies, who currently provide 94% of broadband Internet access, would like to eliminate Net Neutrality so that they would, for the first time in Internet history, be able to discriminate on the Internet in favor of their own content and services.   They are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to eliminate Net Neutrality and their powerful lobby has convinced many lawmakers that it is not necessary.  This battle is taking place RIGHT NOW in the US House and Senate.

Who supports Net Neutrality?

Nearly anyone and any business not involved with the cable and phone companies supports keeping the Internet as the open marketplace that it is today.  Consumer groups, small businesses, innovators, family and religious groups, financial services, retailers as well as major Internet brands such as Google, Yahoo!, Amazon.com, Earthlink, eBay, Intel, Microsoft, Skype, Vonage are fighting to keep the Internet open.

Why Does It Matter?

If Net Neutrality dies, the Internet as we know it today will cease to exist.  Cable and phone companies will win the ability to charge Internet content providers - and even individuals - an extra fee for delivering content, turning the information superhighway into a toll road.  They will also be able to slow down, degrade or even block the content of any website that does not pay those fees.  Small businesses, innovators and technology entrepreneurs that rely on the Internet to reach consumers could be priced out of the marketplace entirely.

If Congress turns the Internet over to the telephone and cable giants, everyone who uses the Internet will be affected. Connecting to your office could take longer if you don't purchase your carrier's preferred applications.  Sending family photos and videos could slow to a crawl. Web pages you always use for online banking, access to health care information, planning a trip, or communicating with friends and family could fall victim to pay-for-play schemes.

Independent voices and political groups are especially vulnerable. Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips, silencing bloggers and amplifying the big media companies. Political organizing could be slowed by the handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups or candidates to pay a fee to join the "fast lane."

What does Net Neutrality protect?

One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger, company, or group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible as Google's or Microsoft's home page and compete in the open marketplace.  Net Neutrality allows and protects this vibrant competition and allows even the smallest, home-based business anywhere to compete in the global economy.  Network operators are not permitted to interfere in the flow of information and innovation, based on the content, service, or affiliation.

Why Is Congress Considering It?

Suddenly last summer, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission decided, at the urging of the cable and phone companies, to stop enforcing Net Neutrality.  These companies want to enact this permanently into law so that they may legally discriminate in favor of their own content and services, something that has never happened in the history of the Internet.

What about free markets and competition?

Cable and phone companies want you to believe that eliminating Net Neutrality is the only way to preserve fair and open competition.  However, currently 98% of all broadband connections are controlled by these companies.  If Net Neutrality ends, they will have effective control over what content is most accessible on the Internet, rather than the free market. 

Nothing bad has happened yet so isn't this just hypothetical?  What could happen?

Without strong legislation protecting Net Neutrality, the following examples will become the norm:

  • In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival web-based phone service (like Vonage, Skype, etc.).
  • In 2005, Canada's telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a website sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
  • Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging $10 extra a month to subscribers in order to "enhance" competing Internet telephone services.
  • In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com - and advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send email plan.

What can you do to help?

Contact your Congressman and Senators and let them know that you want to keep the free market in control of the Internet.  Tell them that you favor Net Neutrality.  The Congressional Switchboard number is: 202-224-3121.