Consumers generally connect to the internet one of two ways. They can subscribe to a residential broadband service from a company such as Time Warner Cable. Or they can subscribe to wireless internet access from companies such as Sprint.
These companies have spent billions of dollars laying cables in the ground (in the case of residential internet access) or erecting cell phone towers (for wireless access) to ensure that customers have fast, reliable service.
Network neutrality is the idea that these companies should treat all internet traffic equally. It says your ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest.
Since the term was coined more than a decade ago, it has been at the center of the debate over internet regulation. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), and the courts have all debated whether and how to protect network neutrality.
Advocates argue that network neutrality lowers barriers to entry online, allowing entrepreneurs to create new companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox. But critics warn that regulating the broadband market could be counterproductive, discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate
In January, an appeals court invalidated FCC regulations designed to protect network neutrality. The agency is currently considering how to respond.