A decision by the FCC last year could make “net neutrality” a reality–a three-judge panel decided that the FCC was right when it said the internet is not a luxury good in most homes but a necessary utility like the phone company, broadcast access or electricity. This means the FCC can regulate the Internet Service Providers. The decision will likely proceed to the Supreme Court.
The basic idea behind net neutrality is that every website, streaming service, app or other piece of information on the internet should be treated the same by the internet service provider you pay for every month (Comcast, Verison, Time/Warner, T-mobile even).
On the one hand, the companies who built and paid for the network of fiber optics, switches and routers (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) want to regulate how quickly some information (especially streaming services–Neflix, Hulu–that take a lot of space on all those wires and switches) can roll down the information superhighway.
But Google, Netflix and Hulu (among many, many others) say that if the ISPs can regulate which content sails through their switches and which is slowed or stopped, well then Verizon might just allow their on-demand service to run like butter while Netflix users wait every three minutes for their films to buffer, play, stop, buffer, play, stop.
Also in here are smaller upstart companies who fear that the ISPs will allow big companies that can pay extra fees (think: Amazon) to get through quickly while slowing down the small company’s website.
Most people think of this as a win for the consumer. However, if the ISPs have to make faster and faster networks, but they cannot charge users such as Netflix any more money for those upgrades–even though Netflix’s streaming uses the network the most–will any ISP make the upgrade? Long term it could mean older, slower infrastructure, they argue. (The judges didn’t really care about this argument, the Switch at WaPo says).