Preserving the Essential Internet
“Network neutrality” – or, more precisely, “Internet neutrality” – is perhaps the most prominent and contentious issue in Internet and telecommunications policy today. Proponents of nondiscrimination requirements for providers of broadband networks argue that government action is necessary to preserve essential qualities of the Internet. Network providers warn that government-imposed neutrality requirements would subject the Internet to burdensome regulation and bureaucracy and would undermine the providers’ ability and incentive to expand their broadband networks and service offerings.
As a preliminary matter, CDT believes the term “network neutrality” is imprecise and has come to mean different things to different stakeholders in the debate. For some, network neutrality means creating a full common carriage regime for broadband networks; for others, the focus is on interconnection. It appears that some neutrality proponents may be attempting to reach beyond Internet offerings to address the use of broadband networks in their entirety.
In CDT’s view, the focus of the debate today should be squarely on preserving the openness of the Internet – as opposed to other, non-Internet services that also may be carried over broadband networks. We believe that companies investing in broadband networks should be free to use those networks for a wide range of non-Internet services on terms and conditions of their own choosing. For that reason, we believe that “Internet” neutrality better reflects the proper scope of the issue than does “network” neutrality. Our recommendation is to distinguish between “networks” and “the Internet” and to focus the policy debate on the latter.
Preserving the Internet as an open platform for speech and innovation, without gatekeepers or centralized control, has been a defining issue for CDT since its inception. In the mid-1990s, CDT helped to litigate and win the landmark ACLU v. Reno case, which found in the Internet’s open, nondiscriminatory architecture a constitutionally relevant basis to give the medium the highest form of free speech protection. In 2000, CDT published “The Broadband Internet: The End of the Equal Voice?” which reviewed the risks to the Internet and urged the Internet community – including network architects, access providers, content providers, and concerned public interest organizations – to strive to maintain the medium’s robust openness and unfettered freedom.