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net neutrality

net neutrality, the principle or requirement that Internet service providers (ISPs) allow equal access to all Internet content. The issue of insuring net neutrality has become of greater concern as Internet content is increasingly provided by independent entertainment and information services that compete with the television channels and other services offered by ISPs that also provide the high-speed access required to view such Internet content generally. Legal protections to ensure net neutrality typically involve the prohibition of the discriminatory blocking or slowing of access to websites or services offered by content providers that compete with an ISP and the prohibition as well of permitting websites or services faster access to an ISP's subscribers in return for payment by the content provider to the ISP. In 2015 the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) initiated stronger oversight over high-speed Internet delivery, regulating the broadband Internet access provided by ISPs as a public utility in order to ensure the legality of the net neutrality rules it adopted. A change in commissioner membership at the FCC, however, led in 2017 to the reversal of the 2015 rules, effective in 2018. Critics of regulations designed to ensure net neutrality have argued that such regulation discourages innovation, and that competition will ensure equal access, while supporters have noted that most subscribers have access to only one broadband provider who does not have an incentive to provide equal access to competing content, and have argued that limitations on equal access to content providers could discourage the development of independent Internet services and reduce competition among content providers.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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