The national debate over net neutrality landed back in the news last month after the U.S. Senate voted to restore controversial rules enacted during the Obama administration to mandate unencumbered Internet access that service providers argued was already in existence. It rolls on, even as those rules officially ended Monday.
On May 16, the U.S. Senate voted to block a move last year by the Federal Communications Commission to end 2015 rules designed to more strictly regulate internet service providers (ISPs).
Even when seen apart from politics, net neutrality can be confusing. Here's what you need to know about why it matters to business and consumers:
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that internet providers should allow consumers and businesses to have equal and open access to any online content without favoring certain websites or applications over others.
People and companies on both sides of the debate say they support this general concept. But they differ on the rules and particulars, and how they should be implemented.
What are the positions around the issue?
In 2015, the FCC enacted rules to regulate service providers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which meant ISPs, such as Comcast and AT&T, were treated as public utilities, much like power and telephone companies.
Internet providers say that the much-lighter regulatory hand used for nearly 20 years prior to the 2015 rules had given service providers room to largely achieve many goals of net neutrality. They say that less regulation also helped enable the needed private investments to increase broadband access and Internet speeds. ISPs say that the 2015 regulations were more applicable to low-investment, low-growth businesses like public utilities and were unsuited for a rapidly growing, fast-changing Internet and the companies that provide access to it.
Many tech companies and internet activists feel differently. They say that internet service providers can throttle speeds, charge more for faster service or block websites and apps if not regulated more closely by government.