Net neutrality is the principle that data packets on the Internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source. Net neutrality is sometimes referred to as the “First Amendment of the Internet.”
In the United States, high-speed Internet service providers (ISPs), including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, have sought support for a two-tiered Internet service model. In a two-tiered model, providers would be able to charge content providers a premium fee for priority placement and faster speed.
Although no country is in charge of regulating the Internet, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has considerable influence. In 2010, the FCC extended carrier network rules to Internet Service Providers, requiring them to offer fair and equal access to the Internet for all content, as long as the content is legal. Many supporters of Net neutrality in the United States are concerned about the lack of competition in broadband services.
The FCC’s 2010 ruling held broadband providers to the same standards as telecom carriers in the United States, which have to offer equal-access telephone lines. Early in 2014, however, a Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to extend carrier network rules to ISPs, and people began to speculate about whether or not the FCC would use its power to reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service.
Proponents of reclassification believed it was a simple solution that would give the FCC the power to legally enforce common carrier rules and therefore, Net neutrality. Opponents pointed out that if the FCC reclassified Internet service as a telecommunications service, it would essentially turn the Internet in the United States into a utility which would give the government power to regulate the Internet.
In February of 2015, the FCC did indeed reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996. The reclassification makes broadband Internet in the United States a regulated utility, subject to the same regulationas as landline phone service, water and electricity.
Opponents to the reclassification have said they plan to challenge the FCC’s authority in court.