Web Culture

How the Web Won on Net Neutrality: 5 Key Moments

Dann Albright 06-02-2015

Net neutrality What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More has been a hot issue for the past ten years. The idea that all traffic through an Internet service provider (ISP) should receive the same treatment is one that’s been explained, debated, defended, and attacked in all manner of ways. But it appears that net-neutrality supporters have won the battle: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler announced this week his intention to submit “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.”


The plan hasn’t been approved yet, but it does looks like net neutrality will reign, at least for a while. Let’s take a look back at some of the most important moments in this battle and see how the Internet banded together to support one of its cherished causes.

2005: Vying for VoIP

In 2003, the phrase “network neutrality” was coined in a law review article by law professor Tim Wu. It wasn’t until 2005, though, that battles started hitting the courts: in a case that had net-neutrality supporters thinking that things were going well, the FCC pressured an Internet service provider in North Carolina to stop blocking voice-over-IP (VoIP) services Goodbye, Skype: 4 Alternative VOIP Services You Can Record Calls With Can't record calls with Skype anymore? Recent changes that break support of third-party apps have left many users frustrated. Could now be the time to try an alternative VoIP call recording service? Read More that were competing with their traditional phone services.

With this case people started paying attention, and a lot of people began to understand what net neutrality is Net Neutrality, As Explained By YouTube’s Geniuses Are you still not sure what Net Neutrality actually is? Don’t feel dumb: it’s a nuanced concept. So, we tracked down videos from some of the smartest people on the Web. Read More .


After that, however, things stopped looking so good. The FCC repeatedly failed to support the principles of net neutrality over the next several years: cable Internet was deregulated, a useful bill failed to pass the Senate, and it became clear just how much force large ISPs were willing to put behind their anti-neutrality lobbying.


2007: Battling Over Bandwidth

In the late 2000s, activism started to really pick up. Activists and the Associated Press brought to light the fact that Comcast was throttling traffic that was being used for BitTorrent uploads 4 Things You Didn't Know About BitTorrent What do you think of when you hear the word “BitTorrent”? It probably depends on who you are. If you're an average Internet user, you think of free stuff. If you’re the president of a... Read More , which consume a very large amount of bandwidth. The outcry led to a number of court cases, though ultimately Comcast won on appeal. The decision cast doubt over whether or not the FCC actually had the authority to legislate net neutrality.

While the Comcast-BitTorrent-FCC case was moving through the courts, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would eventually become the Open Internet Order, which set regulations that would prevent fixed-line broadband providers from discriminating against or blocking lawful content (the rules on wireless providers were a bit more lenient).

In 2012, Verizon challenged the Open Internet Order in court, leading to an extended court battle between the mobile ISP and the FCC.

2013: Fighting for FaceTime

In late 2012, AT&T announced that only users on their “Mobile Share” plan, their latest and most expensive, would be able to use Apple’s FaceTime – effectively charging users extra for using the alternative to a traditional phone call. Activists decried this as a clear violation of the principles of net neutrality, and Free Press threatened to file a formal complaint.


AT&T backed down, eventually beginning to unblock the app for users of its other plans – though many people felt that they didn’t go far enough in allowing users of cheaper data plans to use the app. However, this success did strengthen activists, who continued to call for companies to respect net neutrality and be open about their pricing and access policies.

June 2014: Firing on the FCC

Net neutrality suffered a significant blow in early 2014, when a DC court ruled in favor of Verizon and overturned the Open Internet Order – even though Verizon admitted that the Order was the only thing that kept it from charging websites to reach its customers.

In the middle of the year, the public made it clear that they weren’t happy to stand by while big corporations and an impotent FCC fought it out in court. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, explained net neutrality to his viewers and called on them to get in touch with the FCC to support it — 1.1 million comments were left on the FCC’s site, so many that it crashed.

September 2014: Staging a Slowdown

The FCC’s servers crashed again when an additional 3.7 million comments flooded in after the Internet Slowdown, a day in which websites symbolically covered the web in loading icons to raise awareness of the importance of net neutrality. Whatisnetneutrality.net, the home of the Internet Slowdown, says that the day resulted in over 300,000 calls made to representatives, 2.3 million emails sent to congress, and 777,000 comments filed with the FCC.


It’s safe to say that we got their attention.

2015: Winning the War?

With Chairman Wheeler’s announcement yesterday, it’s clear that the activism that’s taken place over the past five years has gotten through. The proposed reclassification of broadband Internet as a telecommunications service instead of an information service places it under the purview of the FCC, meaning that the Commission would finally have the power to regulate ISPs and have its rulings stand up in court.

Of course, there are certain to be legal battles over the reclassification of broadband for the next several years, and there’s a proposal going through congress right now that would remove the FCC’s authority to make these sorts of decisions (though President Obama has stated his support for an open Internet Obama Backs Net Neutrality, Google Fights Ebola, & More... [Tech News Digest] Also, the Microsoft Lumia 535, edit captions with new Instagram update, The Who goes mobile, and the hour-long World of Warcraft documentary. Read More , suggesting that he will not sign the bill if it makes it to his desk).



Regardless of what the future holds, net neutrality activists can celebrate this month. Wheeler looks set to make it illegal for ISPs to prioritize Internet traffic based on payments from websites, which means no “fast lanes” that could disadvantage smaller companies with less cash.

With the President and Internet activists on one side and ISPs and lobbyists Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] Imagine a world where the content you are allowed to view on the Internet is tightly controlled by your Internet service provider. On MUO Debates, we explore and question this reality. Read More on the other, Wheeler is showing that he’s willing to stand up for what’s in the best interest of consumers.

At least for now, we’ve won.

What do you think of Wheeler’s recent announcement? Do you think it’s a good plan? Do you think it can get past the black hole that is congress and lobbyists with millions of dollars to offer? Share your thoughts below!

Image credits: Open security lock on computer circuit boardGraphic symbol of a lock on a computer board, Internet security concept via Shutterstock.

Related topics: Activism, ISP, Net Neutrality.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. A41202813GMAIL
    February 8, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    "I Hate Big Government Monopolies, But I Hate Private Monopolies Even More".


    • Dann Albright
      February 10, 2015 at 10:38 am

      I think if people had to succumb to a private monopoly to get the speeds that Google Fiber promises, they'd probably be happy to. :-)

      I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the Google Fiber experiment goes, and to how it gets legislated. Should be very interesting!

    • A41202813GMAIL
      February 12, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      With More Players Some Prices Will Be Better Than Others.

      With The Successive Mergers, The Number Of Players Are Fewer And Fewer.

      Consumers Have, Right Now, The Opposite Of What They Want - High Prices And Not Enough Supply.

      Something Got To Give.

      "Far Too Many People Have Enjoyed A Free Lunch For Far Too Long".

      Thank You For Responding.

    • Dann Albright
      February 12, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      I totally agree on the fact that prices are too high and that competition is being stifled. I haven't lived in the States for a few years now, but it was definitely like that while I was there, and it doesn't seem to have gotten any better.

    • A41202813GMAIL
      February 13, 2015 at 3:06 am

      I Live On The Bottom Left EUROPE Corner.

      I Only Know About UNCLE SAM Based On What I Read.

      Prices Here Are Better Than Theirs, By Supply Choice Is The Same Old Struggle.


    • A41202813GMAIL
      February 13, 2015 at 3:09 am

      * Sorry

      ...B(ut) Supply Choice...

  2. KT
    February 8, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Now this is a polarizing topic! The hard truth is: The internet is the most powerful wealth generating, information sharing technology ever invented. You can be absolutely sure that the people with power will continue to do everything they can to have control over it. Celebrate the little victories we the consumers can get, because ultimately, it will be controlled by someone with power.

    • Dann Albright
      February 8, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Polarizing indeed! I honestly had no idea that people were so strongly against it. I definitely understand the desire to decrease the amount of governmental regulation, but this seems like a pretty clear win for consumers (as you mentioned above).

      But you're right. I hadn't thought about the internet as a wealth-generating technology; I tend to think of it as for information sharing. But people will always want to control it—businesses, government, individuals . . . and that means it will always be a battleground.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  3. Bnjohanson
    February 7, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Tweaking in comparison to full blown regulatory Oversight under the perview of the Government versus legislation to tackle such things as fraud, other untoward behavior, both civil and criminal. Second, YOU THINK GOVERNMENT REGULATION WILL FIX YOUR RANKING / MONOPOLY ISSUES? Of course you do; you're a left-wing believer; and finally, you know exactly what MOU is.... But for the rest the world, It's this site where all of you over here are a microcosm of a 1960s sewing circle of which I frequent to support one of the many slivers of my interests.

    Look, I don't expect you to have have learned anything over this Obama - case study on the failures of Leftists policies, but many have that didn't know prior to the demise of Obama. Big Government is a failure as it always been and the only use it has is for the very few things the private sector can't do on its own.

    • Dann Albright
      February 7, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Okay, I have better idea of what you mean by "tweaking" now. Though now I'm a bit confused by how this tweaking is different from the legislation that you mention.

      I don't think government regulation will necessarily fix our speed and monopoly issues—but that's not what net neutrality is about, either. Just pointing out that saying that today is the "good ole days of the internet" is a bit rosy.

      Also, in your discussion of the failure of liberal policies, are you talking about things related to the internet? Or just in general? While there are plenty of potential arguments you can use for the Obama administration having not helped the overall state of the country, I'm not sure what you're offering as proof of liberalism being bad for the internet (which is a pretty big claim).

    • bnjohanson
      February 7, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      Ok D-D-Dannnn Albright...Lover of Big Brother; please see the following- http://www.scribd.com/doc/254995200/Internet-warning-from-FCC-Commissioner.

      Since I no longer care to educate you on things that you are clearly unable to learn for yourself, I have merely submitted this latest FCC Filing. Although I am sympathetic because it was the Government takeover of this Country's education system that has been very successful in brainwashing the susceptible, especially those that are the product of the 60's radicals that colored the Baby Boomers as worst generation any country has ever seen in human history.

      Therefore, it will take generations to rid of all of you, but in the meantime, we along with the failures of Obama, Pelosi, Detroit, Chicago, and every single Leftist effort known to mankind that has resulted in absolute failure, a great majority of Americans will keep leanings towards Freedom in the majority for the rest of us versus your twisted-quitter thinking that Big Gov can compliment your personal shortfalls into a boost so to compete with the rest when in reality, it only suppresses/restricts the rest to your pathetic levels.

  4. bnjohanson
    February 7, 2015 at 11:59 am

    "With the President and Internet activists on one side and ISPs and lobbyists on the other..."

    This is the type of asinine statement that is so knee-jerk via the Left Wing Loons in this country. What a completely naive and moronic thing to say. Here's an idea, KEEP OBAMA THE HELL OUT OF IT, THIS YIELDS THE GOVERNMENT STAYING OUT OF IT, and any tweeking that is required by outrageous conduct/behavior, IF ANY, needs to be done via legislation only.

    Any moron that believes "free and open" coming out of Obama's mouth are the same clowns that voted for this moron twice...and will 100x more if they could prior to jacking off to Hillary.

    100% Guarantee: Regulating the internet like a utility (or the Left Wing Loons at MOU's thinking, Obama's "free and open") will only result in the end of competitive pricing, scorching-fast improvements and new technologies, and vast input by all working to improve the infrastructure. Now you will have as many working to better the internet as you do working to improve the cellular and electrical grid. R.i.P. these good ole days of the internet thanks to the wall-licking liberal smart asses that we all have suffer with...

    • Dann Albright
      February 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      There are a number of things in your statement that I don't quite understand, but I'll just focus on a couple here.

      First, what does "tweeking that is required by outrageous conduct/behavior" mean? I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

      Second, do you really think right now is the "good ole days of the internet," when the US is ranked 26th in the world for speed, cable companies have local monopolies, and those cable companies are known around the world for their abysmal customer service?

      Finally, who is MOU? You say there are "left-wing loons" there, but I'm not familiar with this particular group.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. Mike
    February 6, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Bart is spot on!

    • bartRAPEDmike
      February 7, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Spot on your 2 cent mom. After you're done blowing Bart, does he blow you or bust in your face? You dumb shits are why the GOP had to sell out to corporate in order to have significance.

  6. Bart
    February 6, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Wrong approach and waste of time. This will be tied up in the courts for years and struck down again. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is an Obama fundraiser. Erich Schmidt of Google is a big Obama donor. Google is the biggest corporate lobbyist. Bigger than Verizon and Comcast combined. Follow the money. This is all about cronyism. Obama needs to learn to work with Congress and quit trying to bypass Congress.

    • Dann Albright
      February 7, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Bart, I'm not sure what you're suggesting here. If Wheeler and Schmidt are Obama donors, I assume you're saying that they're getting something out of this that's unfair or somehow biased. What is it that they're getting?

      Also, if Obama were to work with Congress, what sort of solution do you think he'd have to put forth to get past both houses? Especially when they're controlled by Republicans who aren't especially inclined to work with him?

    • bnjohanson
      February 8, 2015 at 4:16 am

      HEY DANN -

      Show some fortitude and consider an update to that, at-best misleading, at-worst flagrant propagandized article that you released yesterday. Responding with any skepticism due to partisan differences or the like is a total cop-out since any all evidence points to this Link below being a far more likely scenario, and if you just plain ignore this request, I will assume you are acting upon the latter at-worst scenario in the aforementioned.

      [Broken URL Removed]

    • Dann Albright
      February 8, 2015 at 9:44 am


      I see that you've come to terms with the fact that you and I have different feelings on whether or not ISPs should be able to charge websites to get to customers. And that's fine—I'm all for educated, reasonable discussion; and sometimes that doesn't result in anyone changing their mind.

      But saying that I'm skeptical due to partisan differences and then posting a link to a story from the Tea Party News Network (TPNN) that starts with these lines is a bit hypocritical, don't you think?

      "Progressive Democrat controlist Obama is a deceptive lying expert at strawman arguments. announcing problems that don’t exist so that he and his big government profiteers can control even more of American’s lives that they don’t already control."

    • Rick
      February 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      Bart, I have both parties, but to say that Obama could propose ANYTHING that Boehner and McConnell is at best naïve, but probably disingenuous.

      On the approach, it is very likely to achieve it's goal, especially with the former head of the lobby pushing it.

      I am happy that these greedy assholes have pushed it so far and are forcing other larger companies with inherent net-neutrality interests to start creating a true competitor system. In ten years if events continue on this line, TWC and Comcast will be dead of slitting their own throats, because customers will leave them FOREVER.

    • Dann Albright
      February 10, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Rick, I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to say here, but I think I agree with you. :-)

      If competition is indeed fostered among cable providers, we could see a huge shakeup in the field in the near future. I just can't imagine anyone staying with Comcast if they have another choice. If Comcast can't dominate an area by keeping others out, I think they'll be in serious trouble.