Network neutrality, or simply net neutrality, is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all Internet communications equally, and not discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, or method of communication.
With net neutrality, ISPs may not intentionally block, slow down, or charge money for specific online content. Without net neutrality, ISPs may prioritize certain types of traffic, meter others, or potentially block traffic from specific services, while charging consumers for various tiers of service.
The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems. Net neutrality regulations may be referred to as "common carrier" regulations. Net neutrality does not block all abilities that Internet service providers have to impact their customers' services. Opt-in/opt-out services exist on the end user side, and filtering can be done on a local basis, as in the filtration of sensitive material for minors.
Research suggests that a combination of policy instruments will help realize the range of valued political and economic objectives central to the network neutrality debate. Combined with strong public opinion, this has led some governments to regulate broadband Internet services as a public utility, similar to the way electricity, gas, and the water supply are regulated, along with limiting providers and regulating the options those providers can offer.
Proponents of net neutrality, which include computer science experts, consumer advocates, human rights organizations, and Internet content providers claim that net neutrality helps to provide freedom of information exchange, promotes competition and innovation for Internet services, and upholds standardization of Internet data transmission which was essential for its growth. Opponents of net neutrality, which include internet entrepreneurs, ISPs, and telecom equipment manufacturers, assert that net neutrality requirements would reduce their incentive to build out the Internet, reduces competition in the marketplace, and may raise their operating costs which they would have to pass along to their users.
Net neutrality is administrated on a national or regional basis, though much of the world's focus has been on the conflict over net neutrality in the United States. Net neutrality in the United States has been a topic since the early 1990s, as they were one of the world leaders in online service providing. However, they face the same problems as the rest of the world. Finding an appropriate solution to creating more regulation for Internet Service Providers has been a major work in progress.