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February 14, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:07am

So what’s net neutrality, anyway?

What does net neutrality actually mean? And is it a good thing or a bad thing?

By Joe Curtis

There’s been plenty of talk over the concept of net neutrality in the news recently, especially after the District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals ruled that regulators could no longer enforce it on internet service providers.

But what does net neutrality actually mean? And is it a good thing or a bad thing?

CBR gives you all the pros and cons in this handy explainer.

What is net neutrality?

The term net neutrality is basically the equal rights of the internet. The principle, if endorsed by a government, means that ISPs should treat all internet data the same.

That means ISPs – which provide access to the internet for us, you and everyone – can’t discriminate between websites, or routers, or content, or applications, or platforms, or even attached devices like game controllers.

It is the guarantee that everything, good or bad, is equally accessible.

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All websites are equal (the pros)

Supporters of net neutrality believe it underpins the very concept of a free and open internet.

Because ISPs are private companies, with their own interests, it is vital that net neutrality rules stop them from blocking access to certain sites, such as those of competitors.

It also theoretically stops companies from charging more for smoother service or access to particularly popular websites.

In that scenario, you would not only be charged for access in the first place, but then be required to pay another fee on top to actually use the service. This is known as double-dipping.

Also ISPs could, in theory, charge more to website operators and anyone manufacturing anything for internet use for the privilege of using their network.


But some websites are more equal than others (the cons)

Critics of net neutrality say that in certain cases, discriminating between sites is not a bad thing. For instance, it could help provide faster, smoother access to popular websites or applications, by slowing service to less widely-used ones.

Another thing ISPs hold up in their defence is that if one were to restrict access to its pipe, a consumer could just go elsewhere – meaning free market rules would dictate good behaviour. Not only that – competition could encourage innovation.

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