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."