Buzzword: Net neutrality (and why we support it)

Consumer Reports News: October 27, 2009 06:08 AM

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Since last month, the Federal Communication Commission's push for net neutrality—the principle of an open Internet unhindered by the filtering or blocking of lawful Web sites by service providers—has sparked controversy among lawmakers and pundits. Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports (and a supporter of the FCC's initiative) has published a rundown on the basics:

Network neutrality is a fancy way of saying the networks that deliver the Internet should treat all content, sites, and applications equally and shouldn’t discriminate against certain traffic based on its source, destination or message. The basic idea is the Internet should be open so consumers have unrestricted access to lawful Web sites and online businesses can compete freely.

The FAQ, found at our sister site, HearUsNow.org, also discusses what's at stake for consumers and what next steps the FCC is taking.

Last week, the agency drafted six proposed rules [PDF] by which an Internet service provider would have to comply. In reality, the first four are already enforced. Rules five and six are the new additions:

Under the draft proposed rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of
broadband Internet access service:

  • would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

Though a number of Internet service providers and lawmakers (most recently Senator John McCain) criticize the net neutrality initiative, Consumers Union supports the FCC's move to prevent ISPs from discriminating against which content and applications its users can access.

From a Consumers Union press release:

“No consumer should be punished with a slower download speed or with a more expensive Internet experience because the provider they use picks and chooses the companies that are allowed to reach their subscribers,” said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “The time has come to establish clear rules of the road for the Internet so that consumer choice and innovation are assured and an open online environment can flourish.”

The FCC is looking for consumer feedback on it's newly proposed neutrality rules,. Give it to them at OpenInternet.gov. Give it to us below. —Nick K. Mandle

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