Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate [June 30, 2011]   [open pdf - 235KB]

"As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major point of contention is the question of whether action is needed to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment, is referred to as 'net neutrality.' While there is no single accepted definition of 'net neutrality,' most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network. A major focus in the debate is concern over whether it is necessary for policymakers to take steps to ensure access to the Internet for content, services, and applications providers, as well as consumers, and if so, what these steps should be. Some policymakers contend that more specific regulatory guidelines may be necessary to protect the marketplace from potential abuses which could threaten the net neutrality concept. Others contend that existing laws and policies are sufficient to deal with potential anti-competitive behavior and that additional regulations would have negative effects on the expansion and future development of the Internet. The December 21, 2010, adoption by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of its Open Internet Order has focused attention on the issue. Although most concede that networks have always needed and will continue to need some management, the use of prioritization tools, such as deep packet inspection, as well as the initiation of metered/usage-based billing practices have further fueled the debate."

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CRS Report for Congress, R40616
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