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Part I: What is "Net Neutrality"?

A Primer on Net Neutrality for Newbies

· Net Neutrality,Internet,Open Internet,Telecommunications

Net neutrality goes by many names: "Net Neutrality", "Preserving the Open Internet" and "Restoring Internet Freedom". But one thing is clear, it's become a touchstone for consumer political action in the Internet space. Astonishingly so, in my view.

This is the first in a series of blogs on Net Neutrality. My goal is simple: for you to be able to discuss Net Neutrality at a cocktail party or by the proverbial work water cooler. In this series of blogs, I first am going to explain what is Net Neutrality. Then I will discuss the wins and losses at the FCC and the courts, and how a wonky issue like Net Neutrality became a topic for late night TV show comedians. Go figure.

In future blogs, I will really drill down on what are the Wheeler FCC/Obama era Open Internet Rules, and then contrast them to the current Pai FCC/Trump era Restoring Internet Freedom rules. Finally, I will discuss California's Senate Bill 822 which reinstated Open Internet rules in California (plus a new zero rating restriction). SB 822 prompted the US Attorney General to file a federal preemption lawsuit within an hour of Governor Jerry Brown signing SB822. The California bill is on hold for now, but it's a sample of other belligerent state action on Net Neutrality.

A Definition of Net Neutrality (for cocktail conversation): "The principle that Internet service providers treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate."


So let's start with a simple definition of Net Neutrality. I like the Wikipedia definition because it's the kind you could actually remember as opposed to a definition written by wonky FCC-ites. (I can say that because I used to be a wonky FCC-ite!) Net Neutrality is "the principle that Internet service providers treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate."

So who are the "Internet service providers" (aka ISPs)? They are the big companies that build the physical Internet infrastructure that carries the Internet data traffic. Examples of these "Internet pipe builders" are AT&T, Verizon, Frontier Communications, CenturyLink, Comcast, Charter Communications, and Cox Communications. Internet infrastructure can be wireline or wireless. Why is there a concern about ISPs discriminating between Internet data traffic? Well, there have been some actual cases where ISPs did that, discriminating against unaffiliated Internet "edge providers" (think Netflix, Mozilla, Hulu, eBay, Amazon) in favor of their own affiliates or subsidaries. So the Net Neutrality rules require ISPs to treat data traffic on the Internet in a non discriminatory manner. That's enough for today!

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