In December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission approved rules that would forbid internet service providers from blocking or slowing online services, or favor their own services at the expense of smaller rivals.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court overturned FCC provisions that require internet providers to treat all traffic the same.
The aim of the net neutrality, requiring internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally, sounds good in concept.
The political and economic questions net neutrality raises are not always easy to answer.
An analogy to understand net neutrality
The highway system on which we drive our cars is owned by the government, and is one continuous system that takes us where ever we need to go. Think of the internet in the same way as you do our passenger car highway system.
Just like the passenger car highway system has different types of vehicles, so does our internet highway system. Think of streaming video on services like NetFlix as a fleet of tractor trailers. Folks using a browser surfing the net would be passenger cars, and someone just sending emails would be like riding a motorcycle.
What if the highway system was owned by numerous corporations who charged you by where you got on the highway, that would be the on ramp that your local company maintained, and they charged you for what type of vehicle you drive, a passenger car, a motorcycle, or a tractor trailer.
The aim of the Net Neutrality laws is to create a system where all traffic on the highway is treated equally.
What's the problem with net neutrality?
The highways are not the same in all parts of the country. What if you lived in an area where there were only two lane highways, and you drove a passenger car. Would you be bothered if everyone else on the highway was a tractor trailer?
How would you handle the complaints of the passenger car owners against the tractor trailer owners? Would you limit the amount of tractor trailer on the highway?
This would be the equivalent of throttling the bandwidth of certain providers that offer streaming video.
The other approach to the problem is to force the local company to build larger highways. But this takes time, and who would pay the bill?
Like any type of public utility, there has to be some type of regulation so the companies play well together. But you need to be careful with regulation, as the concept of the internet is the ultimate in free enterprise and no government dependency.
How do you regulate chaos?
The concept on which the internet was conceived was to create a network where no single entity had complete control over it. It was designed to survive the next world war. In a world of chaos, if no one is in charge, the system, in this case the internet, is unaffected.
As the amount of traffic on this highway we call the internet continues to increase, the battle to control it and regulate heats up.