Network Neutrality

Definitions of network neutrality

At its simplest network neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Net neutrality advocates have established three principal definitions of network neutrality:

Absolute non-discrimination 

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu: “Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.” According to Imprint Magazine, University of Michigan Law School professor Susan P. Crawford “believes that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality-of-service considerations.”

Limited discrimination without QoS tiering 

United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.

Limited discrimination and tiering 

This approach allows higher fees for QoS as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. According to Tim Berners-Lee: “If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service.” “[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.”

FCC broadband policy statement

In 2005, the FCC issued its Broadband Policy Statement (also known as the Internet Policy Statement), which lists four principles of open Internet, “To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to:”

access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

These points are often summarized as “any lawful content, any lawful application, any lawful device, any provider”. President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 called for an investment of 7.2 billion dollars in broadband infrastructure and included an openness stipulation. During the FCC’s hearing, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association urged the FCC to adopt the four criteria laid out in its 2005 Internet Policy Statement as the requisite openness.

In 2008, when the FCC auctioned off the 700 MHz block of wireless spectrum in anticipation of the DTV transition, Google promised to enter a bid of $ 4.6 billion if the FCC required the spectrum operator to adhere to four conditions:

Open applications: Consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;

Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;

Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms;

Open networks: Third parties, such as Internet service providers, should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.

These conditions are broadly similar to the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement (FCC’s applications and content are combined into a single bullet, while an extra bullet adding a requirement for wholesale access for third party providers was included). The FCC adopted only 2 of these four criteria for the auction, viz., open devices and open applications.

In September 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed to add two additional rules on top of its 2005 policy statement, viz., the nondiscrimination principle that ISPs must not discriminate against any content or applications, and the transparency principle, which requires that ISPs disclose all their policies to customers. He also argued that wireless should be subject to the same network neutrality as wireline providers.

In October 2009, the FCC took the next step by approving a notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject of net neutrality.

Development of the concept

In 2003 Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. The paper considered network neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and QoS-sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues. Throughout 2005 and 2006 network neutrality and the future of the Internet was debated by cable companies, consumers and Internet service providers (ISPs), although the issue was almost completely ignored by the media until 2006.

The concept of network neutrality predates the current Internet focused debate, existing since the age of the telegraph. In 1860, a US federal law (Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860) was passed to subsidize a telegraph line, stating that:

messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority …

n act to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph, June 16, 1860

In 1888, Almon Brown Strowger invented an automatic telephone exchange to bypass non-neutral telephone operators who redirected calls for profit.


Proponents of net neutrality include consumer advocates, online companies and some technology companies. Many major Internet application companies are advocates of neutrality, including Google, Yahoo!, Vonage, Ebay, Amazon, IAC/InterActiveCorp. Software giant Microsoft, along with many other companies, has also taken a stance in support of neutrality regulation. Cogent Communications, an international Internet service provider, has made an announcement in favor of certain net neutrality policies. According to Google:

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days… Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.

uide to Net Neutrality for Google Users

Individuals who support net neutrality include Moby,RyanHuling (talk) 01:46, 9 February 2010 (UTC) Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, Lawrence Lessig, Robert W. McChesney, Steve Wozniak, Susan P. Crawford, and David Reed, and President Barack Obama.

A number of net neutrality interest groups have emerged, including SaveTheInternet.com which frames net neutrality as follows:

Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

aveTheInternet.com FAQ

Arguments for network neutrality

This section is written in the style of a debate rather than an encyclopedic summary. It may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards and make it more accessible to a general audience. Please discuss this issue on the talk page. (October 2009)

Control of data

Supporters of network neutrality want a legal mandate ensuring that cable companies allow Internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines, which is called a common carriage agreement, and the model used for dial-up Internet. They want to ensure that cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter Internet content without court order.

SaveTheInternet.com accuses cable and telecommunications companies of wanting “to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all”. According to SaveTheInternet.com these companies want to “tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data … to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video while slowing down or blocking their competitors.” Vinton Cerf, a co-inventor of the Internet Protocol (IP) and current Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, has supported efforts to introduce network neutrality legislation in the US, arguing that “the Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services.” Cerf concluded that:

Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.

inton Cerf in testimony before Congress February 7, 2006

Digital rights and freedoms

Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney argue that net neutrality ensures that the Internet remains a free and open technology, fostering, amongst others, democratic communication.

Competition and innovation

Net neutrality advocates argue that allowing cable companies, or what is termed “content gatekeepers”, to demand a toll to guarantee quality or premium delivery would create what Tim Wu calls unfair business model. Advocates warn that by charging “every Web site, from the smallest blogger to Google”, network owners may be able to block competitor Web sites and services, as well as refuse access to those unable to pay. According to Tim Wu, cable companies plan to “carve off bandwidth” for their own television services and charge companies a toll for “priority” service.

Proponents of net neutrality argue that allowing for preferential treatment of Internet traffic, or tiered service, would put newer online companies at a disadvantage and slow innovation in online services. Tim Wu argues that, without network neutrality, the Internet will undergo a transformation from a market “where innovation rules to one where deal-making rules.” SaveTheInternet.com argues that net neutrality creates an “even playing field” and that “the Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit.” According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney:

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use … Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content.

awrence Lessig & Robert W. McChesney

Preserving Internet standards

Some individuals[who?] claim that authorizing incumbent network providers to override the separation of the transport and application layers of the Internet is a move that will signal the decline of fundamental Internet standards and, perhaps, of the standards-making processes used by the Internet industry itself.

Advocates[who?] of network neutrality suggest that any practice that shapes the transmission of bits in the transport layer based on application designs will undermine the design for flexibility of the transport.[citation needed]

Preventing pseudo-services

Alok Bhardwaj argues that any violations to network neutrality, realistically speaking, will not involve genuine investment but rather payoffs for unnecessary and dubious services. He believes that it’s unlikely that new investment will be made to lay special networks for particular websites to reach end-users faster. Rather, he believes that non-net neutrality will involve leveraging quality of service to extract remuneration from websites that want to avoid being slowed down.

End-to-end principle

Main article: End-to-end principle

Some advocates say network neutrality is needed in order to maintain the end-to-end principle. According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney:

Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet’s wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant “end-to-end” design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good.

awrence Lessig & Robert W. McChesney:

Under this principle, a neutral network is a dumb network, merely passing packets regardless of the applications they support. This point of view was expressed by David S. Isenberg in his well-known paper, The Rise of the Stupid Network

A new network “philosophy and architecture,” is replacing the vision of an Intelligent Network. The vision is one in which the public communications network would be engineered for “always-on” use, not intermittence and scarcity. It would be engineered for intelligence at the end-user’s device, not in the network. And the network would be engineered simply to “Deliver the Bits, Stupid,” not for fancy network routing or “smart” number translation. … In the Stupid Network, the data would tell the network where it needs to go. (In contrast, in a circuit network, the network tells the data where to go.) In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss. … End user devices would be free to behave flexibly because, in the Stupid Network the data is boss, bits are essentially free, and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type.

avid S. Isenberg The Rise of the Stupid Network

Contrary to this idea, the research paper titled End-to-end arguments in system design by Saltzer, Reed, and Clark argues that network intelligence doesn’t relieve end systems of the requirement to check inbound data for errors and to rate-limit the sender, nor for a wholesale removal of “intelligence” from the network core.


Opponents of net neutrality include large hardware companies and members of the cable and telecommunications industries.

Network neutrality regulations are opposed by some noted Internet engineers, such as professor David Farber and TCP inventor Bob Kahn. Vinton Cerf supports it while others oppose regulated network neutrality.

Robert Pepper is senior managing director, global advanced technology policy, at Cisco Systems, and is the former FCC chief of policy development. He says: “The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content. That scenario, however, is a false paradigm. Such an all-or-nothing world doesn’t exist today, nor will it exist in the future. Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer.”

Bob Kahn, one of the fathers of the Internet, has said net neutrality is a slogan that would freeze innovation in the core of the Internet.

Dave Farber, Michael Katz, Christopher Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber Farber, known as the ‘grandfather of the Internet’ because he taught many of its chief designers, has written and spoken strongly in favor of continued research and development on core Internet protocols. He joined academic colleagues Michael Katz, Chris Yoo, and Gerald Faulhaber in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post strongly critical of network neutrality, stating, “The Internet needs a makeover. Unfortunately, congressional initiatives aimed at preserving the best of the old Internet threaten to stifle the emergence of the new one.”

Opposition also comes from think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The Goldwater Institute and Americans for Tax Reform have also suggested that this principle may violate the First Amendment.

A number of these opponents have created a website called Hands Off The Internet to explain their arguments against net neutrality. Principal financial support for the website comes from AT&T, and members include technology firms and pro-market advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste. Corporate astroturfing is alleged.

Arguments against network neutrality

This section is written in the style of a debate rather than an encyclopedic summary. It may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards and make it more accessible to a general audience. Please discuss this issue on the talk page. (October 2009)

Innovation and investment

Some opponents of net neutrality argue that prioritisation of bandwidth is necessary for future innovation on the Internet. Telecommunications providers such as telephone and cable companies, and some technology companies that supply networking gear, argue telecom providers should have the ability to provide preferential treatment in the form of a tiered services, for example by giving online companies willing to pay the ability to transfer their data packages faster than other Internet traffic. The added revenue from such services could be used to pay for the building of increased broadband access to more consumers. Opponents to net neutrality have also argued that net neutrality regulation would have adverse consequences for innovation and competition in the market for broadband access by making it more difficult for Internet service providers (ISPs) and other network operators to recoup their investments in broadband networks. John Thorne, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Verizon, a broadband and telecommunications company, has argued that they will have no incentive to make large investments to develop advanced fibre-optic networks if they are prohibited from charging higher preferred access fees to companies that wish to take advantage of the expanded capabilities of such networks. Thorne and other ISP