Net Neutrality

Since the internet became a widespread tool for citizens and businesses, there has been a concern over the possibility that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) might require users to pay a fee to gain access to all websites, and might require websites to pay a fee to have the fastest available download speeds.  To address this concern, ‘net neutrality’ rules were established by the Obama Administration in 2014 that guaranteed all websites and users would be treated equally by ISPs. 

In April 2017, under the Trump administration, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced their intention to repeal these ‘net neutrality’ rules. On December 14th, 2017 the FCC voted to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules. This repeal went into effect in June 2018.

Since then, legislation has been introduced by Democrats to reinstate net neutrality, and President Biden has nominated a chairperson to the FCC who has pledged to reinstate net neutrality, but they have yet to be nominated. Several states have also passed legislation to instate all or some of the net neutrality regulations.

National Sample: 2,702 Registered Voters
Margin of Error: +/- 1.9%
Fielded: January 27 - February 28, 2022

Proposals covered:

  • Reinstating the 2015 net neutrality regulations

National Sample: 1,077 Registered Voters
Margin of Error: +/- 3.0%
Fielded: December 6 - 8, 2017 

Proposals covered:

  • Repealing the net neutrality regulations put in place in 2015

National Sample: 997 Registered Voters
Margin of Error: +/- 3.1%
Fielded: March 9 - 23, 2018

Proposals covered:

    • Repealing the net neutrality regulations put in place in 2015


Respondents were introduced to the debate over the net neutrality rules that were put in place under the Obama administration.  Respondents informed that in 2015:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a set of regulations to prohibit those behaviors and ensure that all data moving through the internet is treated equally. These regulations prohibited ISPs from doing the following:

  • For websites and applications: creating an internet “fast lane” with faster download speeds for users of websites and applications that pay more, and a “slow lane” for those that don’t
  • Providing faster speeds to the ISP’s own applications and slower speeds to their competitors’ applications
  • Blocking or intentionally slowing down specific websites or applications (unless it is providing illegal content or applications)
  • For customers: slowing down the speed of transmission of data below the normal speeds for the plan they have purchased, unless it is for only a brief period of time in order to keep the network stable

They were then told that, since its repeal, “ISPs have resumed some of the slowing and blocking activities that had been prohibited.”

The proposal they were introduced to would reinstate the net neutrality regulations.

They then evaluated arguments for and an argument against the proposal. The arguments in favor of reinstating net neutrality were found convincing by bipartisan majorities, whereas the arguments against were found convincing by at most half. Among Republicans, a greater percentage found convincing the arguments in favor than those against. 
Asked for their final recommendation, a large bipartisan majority of 73% favored reinstating the net neutrality regulations, including 65% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats. 
Two previous surveys on net neutrality had been conducted by PPC in 2017 and 2018 when the FCC was considering its repeal. They contained slightly different briefings and arguments. Also, because the FCC was considering the repeal of net neutrality in those years, those surveys asked respondents their preference for repeal, whereas the newest survey asked about preference for reinstatement.

The previous surveys found a higher level of opposition to repealing net neutrality (83 and 86%, respectively) than the recent survey found in favor of reinstating net neutrality (73%). While on its face it appears that support for net neutrality has dropped by thirteen percentage points, the more likely explanation is a “status quo bias”. Some people, particularly those for whom the issue is not salient, are more likely to prefer the present situation (e.g. not repealing net neutrality) rather than making a change (e.g. reinstating net neutrality), independent of the policy proposal under consideration.

Related Standard Polls
In polls that provided some definition of net neutrality, bipartisan majorities have supported it:

  • Told that, “Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers providing consumer connection to the Internet should treat all data on the internet the same, not giving specific advantages or penalties in access by user, content, website, platform, or application” and then asked, “Based on all the things you know or have heard, do you support or oppose net neutrality,” 76% were in support, including 73% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats. (May 2017, Mozilla/Ipsos)
  • Told that, “Net neutrality is a set of rules which said that ISPs can not block, throttle, or prioritize certain content on the internet,” and asked whether they support or oppose net neutrality, 60% were in support, including 63% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats. A substantial 23% did not express any opinion (Republicans 21%, Democrats 20%) (May 2018, Morning Consult/Politico)

Status of Proposal
After the FCC voted in favor of repealing net neutrality, but before it officially went into effect, Members of Congress introduced legislation to overturn the FCC’s decision and restore net neutrality. In February 2018, S.J.Res 52 was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D) in the 115th Congress, which would reverse the repeal, and restore net neutrality. In May 2018 the Senate passed this resolution, with 48 Democrats, two Republicans and two independents voting in favor, and 47 Republicans voting against. The resolution was never voted on in the House.

There was legislation in the 116th Congress to permanently reinstate net neutrality: the Save the Internet Act (H.R. 1644, S. 682), sponsored by Rep. Michael Doyle (D) and Sen. Ed Markey (D).  The bill passed the House, with 231 Democrats and 1 Republican voting in favor, and 190 Republicans voting against. It was not voted on in the Senate.

In the 117th Congress, President Biden has nominated to chair the FCC an official who has pledged to reinstate net neutrality regulations. The nomination has yet to be finalized.