Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should treat all data equally and not discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, or method of communication. When net neutrality is required, Internet service providers may not intentionally block, slow down, or charge money for specific online content.
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 customer's 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.
As an example of a net neutrality violation, Comcast secretly slowed ("throttled") uploads from peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P) applications by using forged packets. Comcast did not stop blocking these protocols, like BitTorrent, until the Federal Communications Commission ordered them to stop. In another example, the Madison River Communications company was fined $15,000 by the FCC in 2004 for restricting their customers' access to Vonage, which was a competitor to their own services. AT&T was also caught limiting access to FaceTime, so only those users who paid for AT&T's new shared data plans could access the application. In July 2017, Verizon Wireless was accused of throttling after users noticed that videos played on Netflix and YouTube were slower than usual, though Verizon commented that it was conducting "network testing" and that net neutrality rules permit "reasonable network management practices". A September 2018 report from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst found that U.S. telecom companies are indeed slowing Internet traffic to and from those two sites in particular along with other popular apps.
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. In the United States, in April 2015, the FCC issued its Open Internet Order, which reclassified Internet access - previously classified as an information service - as a common carrier telecommunications service (i.e. a public utility).
On December 14, 2017, the FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to partially repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, classifying Internet access once again as an information service.