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Net Neutrality is the Internet's First Amendment
take it for granted that every Web site and application on the Internet is
treated equally. That’s because it had been that way for much of the Internet's
early history. Until 2005 we had fundamental protections in the law that
guarantee nondiscrimination on the Internet. But that has changed.
Nondiscrimination is a basic obligation of all network operators under Title II
of the Communications Act. Almost 40 years ago, the Federal Communications
Commission was confronted with the question of how to handle the transmission
of data over telecommunications networks.
In a series of proceedings beginning in 1968 known as the Computer Inquiries, the FCC
decided that the companies providing communications services would not be
allowed to interfere with or discriminate against information services.
When a federal court broke up Ma Bell in 1982, it required the
Baby Bells to provide nondiscriminatory interconnection and access to their
networks. These decisions
to require the communications network to treat information service in a
nondiscriminatory manner was the key building block of the Internet -- it's
Under these protections, the physical wires over which data and information
flow were treated differently than the data and information themselves. When network
owners can’t mess with the content, the content market remains free and vigorously
competitive. This separation of the physical communications layer from the
content and applications layers was a cornerstone of telecommunications law--putting
control of the Internet in the hands of the users at the edges but in the
summer of 2005 -- under intense pressure from phone and cable lobbyists -- the
FCC removed this cornerstone.
In the years since then, these network owners have openly declared that they
intend to build business models based on discrimination, extorting money from online
content and applications providers and favoring the Web sites and services that
they own or with whom they strike special deals. This plan violates the
fundamental principle of nondiscrimination that has been law for generations,
and which gave us a free-flowing Internet that allows the best ideas to emerge
on their own merits.
Advocates of Net Neutrality are not promoting new regulations. We are attempting
to restore tried and tested consumer protections and network operating
principles that made the Internet a great engine for free speech and innovation.
By passing Net Neutrality legislation we're restoring under law the open Internet's
most fundamental principle.