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

(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."

Demonstrators call for net neutrality in this Jan. 30, 2014 file photo.   (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Avaaz)
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