Some Straight Talk on Net Neutrality


Common Cause has the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about net neutrality.


What is net neutrality?


Net neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.


Telephone and cable companies that provide Internet access to millions of Americans would like to get rid of net neutrality.  They're spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress for the right to create a two-tier Internet, where their own content and services (and those of businesses that pay them hefty fees) would travel to you quickly and efficiently in the "fast lane," and all other websites and services would be relegated to the "slow lane."


Do we have net neutrality today?


We lost net neutrality protections in August 2006, as the result of a technical change in the way the FCC deals with the Internet. 


But it is important to understand that net neutrality has always been a guiding principle of the Internet -- it is the reason that the Internet has been able to grow exponentially, fuel innovation and alter how we communicate. 


Today there is no rule or regulation to stop the phone and cable companies from doing what they've said they want to do: charge content providers for the right to be on "their" Internet pipes, and make special deals with some companies to ensure their sites and services work faster and are easier to find by Internet users. That's why it's so critical that Congress acts now to protect freedom on the Internet.


Will net neutrality turn control of the Internet over to government regulators?


No.  That argument is a scare tactic employed by the telephone and cable companies.  Net neutrality would mean that Internet service providers couldn't block, impair or discriminate against any lawful Internet content or applications.  It does not give the government any special rights or control over Internet traffic.


Telephone and cable companies say that they're investing millions to build out their high-speed networks to every home and business, but that content providers like Google and Yahoo! want a free ride.  Why should content providers get something for nothing?


No content provider gets a free ride.  Websites pay for their ability to connect to the Internet, and to run applications like email, video, et cetera.  

Will net neutrality mean higher Internet prices for consumers?


No.  In fact, if we lose net neutrality, it could mean higher prices on consumer goods and Internet services.  Companies like Amazon and Google will have to start paying hefty fees to the telephone and cable companies, and they will certainly pass those costs on to consumers.  That also means that a lot of free or low-cost services that we enjoy today - like Internet phone calling and streaming video - might come at a much higher price in the future.


Will investment in the Internet dry up if we mandate net neutrality?


No.  It's important to remember that net neutrality has been in place since the Internet's inception, and there's been massive investment in technology and online services.  There's no reason to think that those investments would dry up if Congress votes to extend net neutrality, one of the Internet's longest-standing principles.

If we get rid of net neutrality, what would the impact be?


Internet service providers would be free to block or impede any online content or services, for any reason.  They could also charge websites or applications for "priority service," practically assuring that any site that couldn't or wouldn't pay their fees would no longer work as well or be as easy to find.  That could spell the end of innovation, as small businesses, entrepreneurs, local governments, nonprofits and others would be locked out of a system controlled by the big telephone and cable companies.  If network providers are allowed to control the flow of information, the open and freewheeling nature of the Internet could be lost.


Even worse, we'll lose the Internet as our "town square" -  where we talk to one another, exchange views, find information from many diverse sources of news and opinion, blog, contact candidates and engage in our democracy.  We will be left with an Internet that is mostly about selling things - entertainment, TV, films, games and other goods - and that is no longer about citizen engagement.


Is this a real threat?


It's not just a threat: There have already been instances of Internet providers blocking access to Internet applications that allow you to access your company's network, share files with peers - even send large attachments (like digital photos) in your email.  In 2005, the FCC sanctioned a rural telephone company named Madison River Communications for blocking its DSL customers from making phone calls over the Internet.  Also last year, Telus, a telephone company in Canada, blocked its customers from visiting a website sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.

Without net neutrality, telephone and cable companies could legally restrict access to any website or Internet application they choose whenever it suits their bottom-line economic, or even political, interests.  The industry's claim that this is "a solution in search of a problem" is shortsighted and untrue.


Companies say that we don't need a law because the market will take care of any problems that arise.


Verizon, AT&T and other industry executives have repeatedly said that they've never blocked any user from any part of the Internet and never would, because if they did customers would simply switch to another Internet service provider. 


But that doesn't recognize the reality that the majority of Americans have only one or two choices of broadband service providers.  There simply isn't sufficient competition in the broadband market to prevent abuses.


In addition, if companies say they have never and would never violate net neutrality, then why do they object to laws that protect net neutrality?


Who supports net neutrality?


Net neutrality has widespread support.  Organizations ranging from and Consumers Union, to the Christian Coalition and the Gun Owners of America, to the American Library Association and Common Cause have all endorsed net neutrality.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have also petitioned Congress to keep the Internet free and open.



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