Net Neutrality, the Internet and the Internet Societyby@netneutrality
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Net Neutrality, the Internet and the Internet Society

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This section defines key terms related to the Internet and Net Neutrality, emphasizing the technical aspects and clarifying common misconceptions. Learn about the Internet's global network of networks, the principles of Net Neutrality, and the role of organizations like Internet Society (ISOC) in setting technical standards.
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(1) William P. Wagner IV, Claremont Graduate University.

Abstract & Introduction

Definition of Key Terms

Fundamentals of Internet Operation


Usage-Based Economic Models

Net Neutrality

Legal History

Researcher Conclusions

Areas for Further Exploration & References

2. Definition of Key Terms

2.1. The Internet

It is relevant and helpful to a discussion on Net Neutrality to understand exactly what the Internet is – and note that there is little substantive difference in these definitions:

The Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.


An electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world —used with the except when being used attributively.

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Internet is defined as a network of networks and there is no mention of hardware, network owner, or content provider. There is no single ruling body of the Internet. See Appendix A.

In technical terms, we can say the Internet is by definition hardware, network, and content agnostic. These three ideas are fundamental to the internet to provide both forward and backward compatibility. The Internet does not care whether a given network uses fiber, copper or satellite. The Internet does not care whether a given user is using a Mac, PC, Smart Phone or an automated water sensor in a farmer’s field. And for purposes of prioritization, the Internet protocols treat all packets of a given type equally – regardless of content, source, or destination.

This paper will use the following definition, which includes reference to the IP protocols that define the technical standards of the Internet:

The Internet: A global system of public and private networks, a network of networks, which is hardware, network and content agnostic and based on the Internet Protocol Suite.

2.2. Net Neutrality

And, of course the definition of Net Neutrality is seemingly fundamental to any discussion of Net Neutrality. Yet almost immediately we see variance in the definitions:

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers treat all data on the Internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.

- Wikipedia

The idea, principle, or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination.

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In this researcher’s opinion, both these definitions seek to express similar ideals, but neither fully succeeds on a technical level. The Wiki definition includes a broad range of internet experiences that one might argue should not be included in a practical definition - like “user” or “method of communication.” Both these aspects are superfluous to a definition of Net Neutrality. By way of illustration, the current system already tiers costs based on the type of user (ex: corporate vs. consumer or private vs government) and it tiers costs based on things like satellite vs terrestrial communication methods.

The Merriam-Webster definition hits much closer to the mark, however due to the technical nature of this discussion, I have changed the term “kind.” As discussed later, there is some prioritization of data on the internet based strictly on technical specifications of TCP/IP, and the use of the term “kind” may overlap with that discussion where the terms “type” and “kind” are often used interchangeably.

Therefore, to avoid confusion, for purposes of this paper we will use the following modified definition of Net Neutrality (substituting “content” for “kind”):

Net Neutrality: The idea, principle, or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its content, source, or destination.

2.5. Internet Society – ISOC

The internet has grown organically, with standards that are open enough that anyone may participate, while being well defined enough that engineers can design hardware and software with confidence. Although there is no formal governing body of the Internet, the protocols that define the Internet are defined and agreed upon by an international consortium of groups, the largest of which is the Internet Society (ISOC). Within the ISOC and the other global standards groups are various open-membership advisory groups, standards groups, and definitive naming and allocation groups for things like domain names and IP addresses that require global consensus in order to operate correctly. See Appendix A. The group primarily responsible for establishing the technical standards of the Internet is the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) [9].

This paper is available on arxiv under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED license.