POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Net Neutrality

The idea behind net neutrality is that phone and cable providers have to treat all internet data equally. A basic example: a major news network brings a story about new developments in online voting. This story (the data) cannot be prioritized, for example, over a student’s blog referring to the same events just because the news network has more power and money to push their story. The traffic on the providers' networks has to be treated equally, which means that companies are not allowed to pay more to push their data faster into the world wide web. Moreover, network competitors cannot block or slow down one another for their own profit.

In recent years, there has been much debate surrounding how net neutrality will be enforced in the future. The situation in the United States is a clear example.
Then Senator Barack Obama already stated in October 2007:

“I am a strong supporter of net neutrality … What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites … And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there."

Upholding net neutrality for an equal internet 

Since then, important developments have been set in motion. A petition on the White House's We the People platform named Restore Net Neutrality By Directing the FCC to Classify Internet Providers as "Common Carriers"  was created by K.H. on 15 January 2014. It quickly received the necessary 100,000 signatures and got the attention of the administration.

President Obama agreed with the idea of keeping the internet free, open and accessible to everyone and called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take measures to uphold net neutrality. On 26 February 2015, the FCC voted in favor of Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. This decision entails changes in regulating internet services providers in order to keep the internet open and equal to everyone. It was followed by several phone and cable providers appealing against the FCC’s ruling but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the new regulations by the FCC.

However, net neutrality now faces a renewed challenge in the United States. President Trump has appointed Ajit Pai as head of the FCC, who has vowed to strip away the current regulation governing net neutrality. If he has his way then internet service providers will be able to discriminate against certain types of content, slowing down that which isn't profitable for them, whilst speeding up that which is.

See also: IT security, Common Criteria, Data Security

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