Net neutrality is shorthand for the concept that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. More specifically, net neutrality requires that broadband networks be free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms. Networks should not restrict the equipment that may be attached to them, nor the modes of communication allowed on them. Finally, networks should ensure that communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.
On December 21, 2010 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued new rules on net neutrality. Under these rules, wired broadband providers are "prohibited from blocking lawful content, applications, services and the connection of non-harmful devices to the network." Wireless broadband providers, however, are allowed more flexibility, reflecting the technical limitations on the amount of traffic a wireless network can handle. Both wired and wireless broadband providers are subject to transparency requirements, which require them to let consumers know how they manage network activity. The new rules also allow internet service providers to charge usage-based fees for broadband, so customers using more bandwidth may be charged more for service than customers using less bandwidth.
However, On January 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that key elements of the FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order are invalid. By tossing out these rules, ISPs are now free to charge content companies higher fees to deliver Internet traffic faster or otherwise more efficiently.
On May 15, 2014, the FCC issued a proposed rule for comment.
The business of real estate is increasingly conducted on-line. Streaming video, virtual tours and voice-over-internet-protocol are just some of the technologies that are commonly used by REALTORS® today. In the future, new technologies will be adopted which will no doubt require unencumbered network access.
Some real estate professionals, realty website operators and real estate industry affiliated content providers believe net neutrality provisions are necessary to prevent broadband providers (cable and telephone companies, primarily) from implementing possibly discriminatory practices that could negatively impact real estate professionals’ use of the Internet to market their listings and services. Some possible examples include practices that would:
- Limit the public’s access to real estate websites
- Limit a real estate firm’s access to online service providers who may be in competition with network operators’ own services, e.g. Internet phone services
- Charging certain websites more for the broadband speeds necessary to properly transmit or display audio or video content such as online property tour, podcast or phone services