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A Free and Open Internet: What You Need to Know About Net Neutrality

Summary: 
Here are some answers to key questions about net neutrality and what the President is doing to ensure a free and open Internet.

The Internet is the cornerstone of innovation. It should be open and free -- an equal playing field for entrepreneurs, writers, activists, businesses, for all of us to share ideas and unlock new possibilities that will define our future. President Obama is committed to preserving that freedom, and that is why he laid out a new plan to protect it.

So what’s the plan and what’s the principle behind it? Here are some answers to key questions about net neutrality and what the President is doing to ensure a free and open Internet:  

What is net neutrality?

As a consumer, you can access the Internet by subscribing to an Internet service provider (ISP), such as a phone or cable company. Net neutrality is the principle that says these companies must treat all Internet traffic equally, no matter the website or service. It prevents Internet providers from restricting access to websites and services you use or giving faster Internet speeds -- or “fast lanes” -- to websites and services that are commercially affiliated with them. Essentially, net neutrality makes sure there are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access in the online world.  

How does net neutrality affect me?

If you use the Internet, net neutrality ensures that every website or service you use will be treated equally -- one website will not get stuck in a “slow lane” just because your Internet provider prefers another provider’s content. If you’re an entrepreneur, net neutrality will ensure that your fledgling company will have the same chance to succeed as more established corporations. If you’re a student blogger, your blog cannot be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.  

This principle has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation, but it is also one we cannot take for granted and we must protect. 

OK, so what is the President doing to protect net neutrality?

President Obama is committed to a free and open Internet. Today, he asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement a plan that will preserve net neutrality. He asked the FCC to take four simple, common-sense steps:

  1. No blocking: If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player -- not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP -- gets a fair shot at your business.
  2. No throttling: Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others -- through a process often called "throttling" -- based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  3. Increased transparency: The connection between consumers and ISPs -- the so-called "last mile" -- is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  4. No paid prioritization: Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

These are bright-line rules that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some Internet providers already observe.

Along with these four rules, how else is the President seeking to protect net neutrality? 

His plan also asks the FCC to recognize what has long been true: that consumer broadband service is about moving data from one place to another, and as such, is a textbook “telecommunications service” under what we call Title II of the Telecommunications Act. 

As the President said:

"For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. 

It’s common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information. That is why the President is asking the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of that Act while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services."

But will these rules hurt the telecommunication businesses? 

No. If implemented by the FCC, these rules shouldn’t create any new burden for Internet providers. In fact, many providers already observe rules just like these. What’s more, these rules can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. 

Who is responsible for protecting an open and free Internet?  

The FCC is responsible for safeguarding net neutrality and ensuring there’s open competition and user choice on the Internet. The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately, the decision to put these rules in place is the Commission’s decision alone.  

So what happens next? 

It’s up to the FCC as to whether they will implement these rules. But as President Obama said, "The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet."

What can I do to help keep the Internet open and free?

Help spread the word! Share this with everyone who needs to know about net neutrality and the President's plan to protect it.

Learn more and stay up to date on the President’s plan at WhiteHouse.gov/net-neutrality.