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Ending Net Neutrality: A Primer

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 3:38pm

By Nick Stumo-Langer ’15

Net neutrality is the concept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must treat all service consumer equally, regardless of bandwidth use. Currently, consumers and website creators buy access to the Internet at the same rate regardless of use. But, that could change.

Instead of allowing Minnesota 2020 or online retailing giant Amazon to be accessed at the same speed, the proposed tiered system could deliver Amazon to you at a faster speed than Minnesota 2020, simply because Amazon was able to pay your specific ISP (such as Comcast or Time-Warner Cable) more money for its bits to load faster.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing a rule to “protect and promote the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission, and thereby to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” The FCC has extended a public comment period on the issue of classifying ISPs as common carriers, so anyone (including you) can leave a comment on their website.

ISPs dislike this rule, because it treats them as common carriers. Common carriers (including buses, trains and cargo ships) cannot refuse or limit service to any user, since the service they provide can be accessed simply for a fee.

Classifying ISPs as common carriers is in the public’s interest because it ensures that anti-trust laws against monopolies are enforced and that the Internet maintains its status as a level playing field. Without this classification, ISPs could refuse to build high speed internet infrastructure in rural areas because they will not be turning an acceptable profit.

To put it simply, net neutrality is one of the most important undiscussed public policy issues. In subsequent posts, I will explain the specific implications that the loss of net neutrality could have in many different sectors that impact Minnesotans’ daily lives. There’s much to think about it.

Originally published at

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