Network neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), including cable companies like Time Warner and wireless providers like Sprint, should treat all internet traffic equally. It says your ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest.
The term was coined in 2002 by Tim Wu, who is now a law professor at Columbia University. In a 2003 paper explaining the concept, Wu argued for a non-discrimination rule that would ensure a level playing field among Internet applications.
Ever since then, the term has been at the center of the debate over internet regulation. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), and the courts have all debated whether and how to protect network neutrality. Advocates argue that network neutrality lowers barriers to entry online, allowing entrepreneurs to create new companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.
But critics warn that regulations could be counterproductive, discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate.
On February 26, the FCC is expected to vote on new, stronger network neutrality rules that regulate internet access like a public utility. Network neutrality supporters have hailed the proposal. But Republicans in Congress argue that it will lead to excessive regulation of the internet, and are working on a legislative alternative to the FCC proposal.