What is Net neutrality, and what does it mean for you?

It's been an interesting week in the debate surrounding Net neutrality. But what is Net neutrality, and how does it affect you?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films | TV | Movies | Television | Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

It's been an interesting week in the debate surrounding Net  neutrality. But what is Net neutrality, and how does it affect you?

Net neutrality refers to the way in which broadband providers treat Web traffic. In an ideal world, the Internet is a level playing field, on which all users are equal. That means that all traffic -- websites, services, companies, individual users -- is treated equally, with no preference for anyone.

In practice, however, Internet service providers prioritise some data they pass from the Internet into your house. This is called traffic management. ISPs claim their networks don't have the capacity to treat all traffic equally, especially as stuff involving lots of data like video, music and gaming become more popular.

ISPs can throttle your connection -- slow down your speed if you're using too much Internettiness -- or shape traffic -- prioritise certain types of Web traffic. Most ISPs slow down peer-to-peer filesharing, which is often viewed as a hotbed of pirating copyrighted material like films and music.

This week Communications Minister Ed Vaizey met with representatives from Ofcom, ISPs, phone networks, online publishers, broadcasters and consumer groups. Sir Tim Berners-Lee -- the inventor of the Internet, no less -- was there too, calling for the Internet to remain a level playing field.

Last year, Vaizey said ISPs should be allowed to charge certain Web services for faster connections. His comments were unpopular with Net neutrality campaigners. Despite Sir Tim's arguments, this week Vaizey once again dealt a blow to the principal of Net neutrality by saying that any "agreement should be guided by three simple principles. The first is users should be able to access all legal content. Second, there should be no discrimination against content providers on the basis of commercial rivalry and finally traffic-management policies should be clear and transparent".

ISPs have also signed up to a new code of conduct proposed by the Broadband Stakeholder Group. This sees ISPs publish information on their traffic-management policies in a format that's easy to compare, so you can see which ISPs suit the way you use the Web.

Is Net neutrality important to you? Would you choose an ISP based on the way it manages your Internet connection? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook wall, and keep it Crave as we follow the debate unfold.