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What is net neutrality?

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Last week some new internet traffic rules for provider companies came into effect in the U.S. around net neutrality: the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Net neutrality means your internet provider can’t block or slow down your ability to use services or applications or view websites. It also means your Internet service provider can’t create so-called “fast lanes” to force content companies like Netflix to pay an additional fee to deliver their content to customers faster. US internet service providers now must act in the “public interest” when providing a mobile connection to your home or phone.

This is a hotly debated topic that often comes down to politics. Net neutrality supporters say rules are needed to make sure your broadband provider can’t control where broadband customers go on the Internet, or what they can see and when they can see it.

Opponents say they’re OK with the basic rules of openness. But they fear the US will sooner or later take a heavy-handed approach to applying utility-style regulation to services that for 20 years have been largely unregulated, including possibly charging fees that the companies claim will need to be passed on to consumers.

Regardless, the new rules won’t make home internet connections faster, won’t eliminate current data caps and won’t prevent internet providers from throttling connections (if that is their policy). A key piece of the FCC’s new regulation is the “no throttling” rule. This means broadband providers can’t slow access to your favourite sites or applications. But it doesn’t necessarily prevent a broadband provider from slowing a user’s entire connection to the Internet.

In NZ Communications Minister Amy Adams says our country would need to have a debate on net neutrality and the issue would be tackled in a review of the Telecommunications Act that needs to kick off before September 2016.