Why You Should Care About Today's FCC Hearing
The next big step in the net neutrality wars comes today
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2014 7:52 AM CDT
Updated May 15, 2014 7:59 AM CDT
Demonstrators call for net neutrality in this Jan. 30, 2014 file photo.   (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Avaaz)

(Newser) – The FCC is unveiling its proposal for new rules to govern Internet traffic today, in a heated hearing that promises to be the next big battle in the war over net neutrali- Wait, come back! As Mashable sagely notes, the words "net neutrality" scare a lot of people, so let's break down exactly what's at stake here:

  • What is net neutrality?: It's the principle that Internet providers can't treat traffic from any given source different from another. Basically, it stops Netflix or the Huffington Post from paying to load faster than a new startup's site. Activists worry that if sites could pay to play faster, the Internet would become a gated, cable TV-esque business.

  • Do we have it now?: We used to, but a court struck down the FCC regulation mandating it.
  • What's happening today?: The FCC officially rolls out and begins debate on a replacement rule that initial reports indicated would essentially end the concept of net neutrality, allowing "commercially reasonable" deals to speed up traffic. No one is sure what "commercially reasonable" means.
  • So net neutrality is dead?: Not necessarily. In response to a massive backlash, FCC chair Tom Wheeler promised that he would revise the rules, and even accept comments on whether ISPs should be regulated like utilities, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Who's on what side?: Some of the biggest names in tech—think Google, Netflix, and Microsoft—are making a loud stink about the rules, arguing in favor of net neutrality. Cable giants like Comcast have long pushed against neutrality. There has also been a small camp of pro-neutrality protesters "occupying" the FCC since last Wednesday, PC World reports.
  • How will the FCC vote?: It's unclear, but some commissioners have expressed support for net neutrality as a concept. ABC News saw one commissioner talking with protesters yesterday. "I want you to know I share your passion," she assured them, encouraging them to get involved with the process that begins today. Protesters say FCC staffers have been "giving us high fives."