Explained

What Is Net Neutrality? And How Does Its Death Affect You?

Federal Communications Commission nixes Obama-era net neutrality rules

In this Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, file photo, demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to undo Obama-era "net neutrality" rules. The now-nixed regulations, which have been in place since 2015, were designed to prevent internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favoring some sites and apps over others.

Heres a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and its pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation. But regulators, consumer advocates and internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the pathway to the internet — blocking or slowing down apps that rival their own services, for example.

What did the government do about it?

The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies dont manipulate traffic. With them in place, a provider such as Comcast cant charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down.

The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that werent explicitly banned as well. For example, the Obama FCC said that zero rating practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which would save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Pais FCC spiked the effort to go after AT&T, even before it began rolling out a plan to undo the net neutrality rules entirely.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.

What telecos want

Big telecom companies hate the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules and have fought them fiercely in court. They say the regulations can undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices. There were concerns about potential price regulation, even though the FCC had said it wont set prices for consumer internet service.

What Silicon Valley really wants?

Internet companies such as Google have strongly backed net neutrality, but many tech firms have been more muted in their activism this year. Netflix, which had been vocal in support of the rules in 2015, said in January that weaker net neutrality wouldnt hurt it because its now too popular with users for broadband providers to interfere.

What happens next?

Although the FCCs two Democrats said they will oppose the proposal, the repeal is likely to prevail as Republicans dominate 3-2. The vote for net neutrality in 2015 was also along party lines, but Democrats dominated then.

In the long run, net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation. Those who criticize the rules say undoing them is good for investment in broadband networks.

But advocates arent sitting still. Some groups plan lawsuits to challenge the FCCs move, and Democrats — energized by public protests in support of net neutrality — think it might be a winning political issue for them in 2018 congressional elections.