Currently, the debate over net neutrality is being waged on two fronts, in Congress and in the private sector.

The Private Sector Debate

In the private sector, the debate over net neutrality wages primarily between two groups of people: the major telecom companies that support the creation of a tiered Internet and the individuals and companies who believe that access to the Internet should remain just as it is. The proponents of a tiered Internet argue that a tiered Internet already exists, with different pricing schemes for different levels of Internet access (cable access to the Internet is faster than dial-up, and as a result costs more, for example), greater access for companies who invest more in network infrastructure, and a tiered backbone structure that organizes Internet traffic based on the amount of traffic exchanged along certain networks, among other things. As a result, they say that "net neutrality" doesn't actually exist, and that those who support net neutrality actually desire a socialized Internet that would, through government regulation, place the Internet into a rigid legislative format that would prevent innovation and free compatition over the Internet.

However, the proponents of net neutrality actually desire the opposite. The tiering system proposed by the telecom companies if no regulations are put in place would serve to further divide the ability to access the Internet based on how much a person can afford to pay. Yes, the amount of money a person or company puts into accessing the Internet currently determines how quickly they can access information on the Internet, but when they pay for an Internet connection, they gain access the the entire Internet. With the proposed tiering system, not only would users have to pay for access to the Internet, but they would have to pay more in order to receive faster access to some websites than others. As a result, it would make the net less neutral than it already is, just so that the telecom companies can make a little more money. This is what the proponents of net neutrality do not want.

The other aspect of the proposed tiered Internet system, and the one that proponents of net neutrality are most opposed to, is that telecom companies want to have control over how quickly Internet users have access to certain websites by forcing companies and individuals who have websites on the Internet to pay them so that people who surf the web will have faster access to their websites. This is the aspect of the tiered Internet system that would restrict the free innovation of the Internet because it would make it much more difficult for individuals and start-up companies to create a strong Internet presence without having to pay large amounts of money to the telecom companies in order to allow users easy access to their sites. This is the reason that companies like Google, and others who were able to go from nothing to multi-million-dollar businesses as a result of free and open access to the Internet support net neutrality. Without the free, equal access to the Internet that exists now, anyone who has a new or innovative web-based idea would have to find the money to pay the telecom companies so that users can have unrestricted access, a privelage that everyone receives for free in the current Internet structure. This is why the debate over net neutrality legislation is so very important right now.

The Congressional Debate

As a result over the net neutrality debate in the private sector, Congress is being forced to consider adding net neutrality legislation to current telecommunications bills. However, due to the ability of lobbyists to influence Congressional members' views, the ignorance of the general public to the issues surrounding net neutrality, and the large amount of mis-information out there about the two sides of the net neutrality debate, it is uncertain as to whether or not the legislation will pass. The House of Representatives passed a bill in May that contained no net neutrality protections, and the Senate Commerce Committee failed to amend its own telecom bill with net neutrality provisions in June. Currently, there is another bill in front of the Senate that will pass or fail based on the language of its net neutrality provisions.

Grassroots organizations like itsournet.org and savetheinternet.com have petitions and coalitions out among the online community to let their Congressmen know how important net neutrality is so that they will vote for the new legislation, while websites like netcompetition.org have been set up by the telecom companies to tell their side of the story. There are even several websites out there set up by pro-net competition organizations that are posing as pro-net neutrality websites in order to mis-inform the public and turn them against net neutrality. As a result, it is very important for the public to become informed about net neutrality, so that when Congress votes, each member ends up voting on the will of its informed constituents, not on the interests of lobbyists, special-interest groups, or minority populations. Net neutrality legislation will affect everyone's ability to use the Internet for communication, business, work and play in the future, so it is important that our opinions inform our representatives in Congress on this important piece of legislation.