What Is Net Neutrality?

As the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission plans to vote Thursday on a controversial plan to repeal net neutrality protections, citizens must consider the ways either decision will affect them.

But to weigh the outcomes, it's crucial to understand what net neutrality means and how the Obama-era plan works.

Net neutrality, also referred to as the open internet, is the principle that all internet service providers (ISPs) treat all online content equally, giving no special treatment or preference to certain content providers over others. Simply put, it means a person could load every website, video or app at the same speed, regardless of where that content comes from.

Under the rules of net neutrality, your ISP may not charge customers premium prices to use movie-streaming sites or pages that promote a specific agenda.

The FCC voted under President Obama in February 2015 to adopt the rules by classifying consumer internet service as a public utility, similar to electricity or phone service companies. As such, the FCC adopted no-blocking, no-throttling and no-paid-prioritization rules.

Supporters of an open internet claim it keeps the web accessible to all people, regardless of their financial status. If these rules weren't in place, they believe ISPs could censor content or charge additional fees for access to specific sites at their own discretion.

Among those supporters are some of the United States' biggest web companies, including Google, Netflix and Twitter, who believe internet users could be given free reign.

Opponents of net neutrality argue that the rules are unnecessary, diluting job creation and free market competition.

Among those who oppose the FCC's current regulations are big name ISPs, including AT&T and Verizon. Both claim that while they support an open web space, the public utility classification does not ultimately support a free internet.

On Thursday, the FCC is expected to vote on a plan to repeal the the Obama administration's public utility classification.

The proposal to repeal the net neutrality rules comes from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump. Pai suggested in May that ISPs have their classification as public utilities removed, which could allow them to charge customers more for access to some websites.


Under the new proposal, the FCC would do away with rules prohibiting internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content.

A simple majority, or three of five votes, will repeal net neutrality. There are three Republicans currently on the FCC and they are expected to vote along party lines.