What the heck is net neutrality? A primer for Monday's Intersection

Mar 21, 2014

Internet connection
Credit Sean MacEntee/Flickr Creative Commons

Intersection on Monday will focus on the issue of Internet (or "net") neutrality — a tussle at the crossroads of law and technology that could end up affecting Americans' wallets.

To prepare you for the show, we've pulled together a short explanation of the topic, including a timeline of key dates.

What is net neutrality?

ReadWrite summarizes it nicely: "In its simplest form, net neutrality is about protecting the Internet as an 'end-to-end' network in which end users have the freedom to send anything to anyone else without undue restriction. In practice, it prohibits Internet providers like the cable or cellular companies from filtering, slowing or otherwise limiting the data traffic that flows over their network — for instance, by blocking services they don't like, or by charging exorbitant traffic fees to rival services."

Here's some context from ReadWrite: "The classic flashpoint example is Netflix, which now accounts for something like a third of peak U.S. Internet traffic. That irks some broadband providers, who'd like to be able to throttle that firehose of data — ostensibly to keep it from overwhelming their networks, although potentially also to favor competing services (some of them provided by the ISPs themselves)."

Key net neutrality supporters:

  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Facebook
  • Google (though it did break from the pack in 2010 with its opinion on wireless networks)
  • Netflix

Those who could benefit from a lack of net neutrality:

  • Comcast (more on this in the timeline)
  • Verizon (more on this in the timeline)
  • Other broadband providers

Key dates