Do you think it’s okay for your internet service provider—the company, such as Comcast or Verizon, that connects you to the internet—to decide which websites you can visit or to determine which streaming services will look best on your smart TV? If the answer is no, you’re probably in favor of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the concept that ISPs should treat all data equally—whether it’s a movie from Netflix, a YouTube video of a speech, or a conversation with your aunt using a new video-chat service. No content provider gets special treatment, even if your ISP has a financial stake in it.

Net neutrality is the law of the land for now, but that may change. If it does, consumers could feel the effects for years to come.

Consumers Voice Concern

Many Americans support net neutrality rules. That’s what Consumer Reports learned from our nationally representative phone survey of 1,008 people, conducted in May.

We asked respondents about specific scenarios. First, if an ISP has its own movie-streaming service, should the company be allowed to block access to the website of a competitive service? Sixty-seven percent of respondents said this shouldn’t be allowed.

Winners and Losers

The current net neutrality rules were put in place by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. This May, under the leadership of a new chairman, Ajit Pai, the FCC proposed getting rid of the regulations, along with a related measure that defines ISPs as “common carriers,” similar to traditional phone companies, under Title II of the Communications Act. Federal courts have confirmed that it’s the Title II designation that gives the FCC legal authority to set the rules.

If the FCC makes these changes, ISPs could still voluntarily follow the principles of net neutrality—or they could try to cash in on paid prioritization deals.

Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, thinks that rolling back the rules could diminish competition, harming consumers. The move is also opposed by technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Roku. “We believe that clear rules should be in place” to prevent ISPs from interfering in content delivery, says Steve Shannon, Roku’s general manager of content and services.

In addition, in a letter to the FCC, a group of more than 800 startup companies said that without net neutrality, ISPs “would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors.”

Broadband providers argue that the current rules are onerous. The Internet and Television Association, which represents ISPs, says in a published statement, “the FCC’s misguided 2015 decision to impose heavy government regulation of the internet networks raises costs, which are ultimately borne by consumers.”


What if, instead of blocking the other website, the ISP decided to simply slow down, or throttle, the content so that it didn’t perform as well as the ISP’s own service? Or what if the internet provider offered “paid prioritization” deals, providing the fastest delivery of content only to companies able to pay for it?

Sixty-two percent of respondents said these practices should be off-limits, too.

How You Can Have a Say

The FCC has launched a two-stage period for public comments, with the first round open until July 17 and a period for responses running until Aug. 16. Consumer Reports readers are, of course, members of the public, with a right to weigh in. You can do that at

If the FCC ultimately does away with net neutrality rules, opponents could file lawsuits to challenge the decision. And there’s a slim possibility that Congress could act, taking the decision away from regulators and making net neutrality a matter of law.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the August 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.