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.
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
In April 2015, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a final rule implementing open internet regulations that prohibit the blocking or degrading of lawful content on the internet by internet service providers. Shortly after the rules were finalized Internet Service Providers Comcast, ATT and Verizon and their trade association all sued to halt implementation of the rules alleging that the FCC does not have proper authority.
The rules wills stay in effect while the lawsuits are pending.