The practical dispute over net neutrality continues to narrow.
One could miss the huge and steady progress being made in practically working through the many facets of the net neutrality dispute, given the headline-grabbing histrionics of net neutrality’s most ardent proponents.
Netflix’ announced a ‘paid-peering’ agreement with Comcast. This is just the latest example of how voluntary commercial negotiations, competition, and innovation are all naturally resolving issues that some want government to decide.
Originally net neutrality proponents introduced net neutrality as, “Internet freedom of speech,” “all bits are created equal,” and “no fast or slow lanes on the Internet.”
Today most understand net neutrality as users’ unfettered freedom to access the legal content and apps of their choice with no unreasonable blocking or discrimination by the Internet service provider. And the broadband industry has long been, and remains fully supportive of, protecting net neutrality and a free and open Internet.
How has the net neutrality dispute narrowed over time?
The first substantial narrowing came when the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously in a broadband policy statement in 2005 that users had the right to access the content and apps of their choice, “subject to reasonable network management.”
The FCC recognized that reasonable network management of Internet traffic was essential to delivering reliable quality of service and to protecting users.
The agency’s decision recognized that all Internet bits did not have to be treated equally, that some needed to be reasonably managed or prioritized in order to prevent network congestion and to deliver a quality experience for Internet users.
In addition, the FCC also recognized the need for reasonable network management to mitigate spam, malware and other “unlawful” Internet traffic.
As broadband competition developed, it became clear to the FCC that different technologies and infrastructures naturally delivered different Internet speeds for users. It also became clear that Internet users did not have uniform needs, wants or means.
Thus the FCC understood that offering different Internet speeds for different prices was not discriminatory, but reasonable network management and normal market price discrimination that well served users.
The FCC also appreciated that since the Internet backbone was privatized by the National Science Foundation in 1994, there were different Internet peering tiers of service based on how much, and how balanced, one’s traffic was.