Five Things to Watch That Will Shape the Internet's Future

Most recently, the FCC has indicated that it will reverse its prior decision on the regulatory status of Internet access to ensure its rules are on solid legal ground. This is welcome news. People and businesses are relying on the Internet for nearly everything; they need to be able access it on a nondiscriminatory basis.

What's at Stake: Nondiscriminatory access is a key part of the Internet's success story. Openness is the Internet's hallmark; it is based on open standards and protocols precisely so that any speaker -- any innovator -- can communicate or launch a service without negotiating with gatekeepers in order to reach other users.

Without meaningful neutrality rules, broadband ISPs would be free to play favorites with Internet traffic. They could make deals with certain content providers to prioritize traffic, or selectively slow down specific applications. This would be a step backwards for free expression and Internet-based innovation.

At the same time, the rules themselves have to be carefully drawn so that they apply only to the "on-ramps" to the Internet -- the transmission component of broadband access -- and not include Internet applications and services more broadly. In other words, it is right for the FCC to assert authority over the connections and transmission, but not over the content and services that pass over the link; how well the FCC threads that needle remains to be seen.

Leslie Harris is president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.

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