As people around the world rely on private infrastructure to access the world wide web, global leaders and policy makers have questioned Internet Service Provider’s (ISPs) role in global connectivity and their freedom to control access to their service.
Simply defined, network neutrality or net neutrality is the principle that ISPs must treat all internet communications (or access) equally, and not discriminate or change access (block or slow down usage) based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, source address or destination address. This means, to be neutral, ISPs and even governments should treat all data on the internet equally. Without net neutrality, ISPs may prioritize certain types of traffic, meter others, or potentially block specific services, while charging customers for various levels of services.
In his paper The WIRED Guide to Net Neutrality, Klint Finley attributed the topic of net neutrality to Columbia University law professor, Tim Wu who coined this term in a 2003 paper about online discrimination. Broadband providers, like Comcast, banned home internet users from accessing virtual private networks (VPNs), while others, like AT&T banned users from using Wi-Fi routers. Providers’ tendency to restrict new technologies concerned Wu, as these restrictions could impact innovation. As a result, Wu called for anti-discrimination rules and the principle of net neutrality was born.