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Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate (CRS Report R40616) (June 12, 2015) (full-text).


As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major point of contention is the question of whether action is needed to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment, is referred to as "net neutrality."

While there is no single accepted definition of "net neutrality," most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.

A major focus in the debate is concern over whether it is necessary for policymakers to take steps to ensure access to the Internet for content, services, and applications providers, as well as consumers, and if so, what these steps should be. Some look to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address this issue using current provisions in the 1934 Communications Act to protect the marketplace from potential abuses that could threaten the net neutrality concept.

Others feel that existing laws are outdated and limited and cannot be used to establish regulations to address current issues and furthermore will not stand up to court review. They advocate that the FCC should look to Congress for guidance to amend current law to update FCC authority before action is taken. Still others contend that existing laws and policies are sufficient to deal with potential anti-competitive behavior and that additional regulations would have negative effects on the expansion and future development of the Internet.