The Case for Rebooting the Network Neutrality Debate

Article Source: The Atlantic (online), May 6, 2014
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Time to Read: 2 minute read
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In the United States, the public supports network neutrality, the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not control online content and services. Allowing ISPs to block startups discourages investment. Europe adopted neutrality rules when ISPs began to stifle innovation.


Policy Relevance:

The FCC should adopt strong network neutrality rules for the United States.


Key Takeaways:
  • In 2013, Netflix users experienced a drop in signal quality when ISPs refused to upgrade parts of their network until Netflix paid for access.
  • Originally, the architecture of the Internet did not allow ISPs and other telecommunications carriers to control the content, applications, and services offered online.
  • In the 1990s, technology changed, giving ISPs more control over what happened online.
    • Consumers, innovators, and investors had become accustomed to freedom of choice.
    • The FCC stepped in to stop ISPs from blocking and discriminating against certain content and applications.
    • The FCC passed basic net neutrality rules in 2010.
  • In 2011, some telecommunications carriers disallowed access to Google Wallet; investors hesitated to fund applications likely to be disfavored by ISPs.
  • In 2014, the FCC proposed allowing ISPs to charge innovators fees for access to Internet users; small startups and entrepreneurs would be unable to pay such fees, stifling innovation.
  • In 2009, European Union (EU) rules allowed ISPs to block or discriminate against online services.
    • Carriers blocked sites critical of their business practices, and competing apps like Skype.
    • In response, the EU adopted strong network neutrality rules.
  • The FCC should adopt strong net neutrality rules for the United States, prohibiting blocking and discrimination.
    • The rules should be straightforward and certain.
    • The rules should be flexible, to allow ISPs to manage their networks and encourage investment in infrastructure.



Barbara van Schewick

About Barbara van Schewick

Barbara van Schewick is the M. Elizabeth Magill Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and Professor by courtesy of Electrical Engineering in Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering. Her research focuses on the economic, regulatory, and strategic implications of communication networks. In particular, she explores how changes in the architecture of computer networks affect the economic environment for innovation and competition on the Internet, and how the law should react to these changes.

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