Policy Documents

No. 124 Neutralism: The Strange Philosophy Behind the Movement for Net Neutrality

October 5, 2009

The election of Barack Obama as president ushered in a new era of regulatory zeal in Washington, with both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined to solve alleged problems with access to and management of the Internet. Advocates of “network neutrality” have the federal government’s ear and seem closer than at times past to achieving their goal of greater government control over the Internet. Their success would change the online experience of every American.

This study examines the philosophy that underlies the movement for network neutrality, which telecom expert Scott Cleland has dubbed “neutralism.” Neutralism stands in striking contrast to the innocuous-sounding Internet “freedom” its advocates call for. Understanding neutralism helps explain why network neutrality would have consequences that are quite the opposite of what its proponents claim. Not all advocates of network neutrality believe in neutralism, and some aren’t even aware that the policy arose from such a strange philosophy. One purpose of this paper is to inform those neutrality advocates of the radical agenda they have unwittingly bought into.