Net Neutrality has been one of the most hotly-debated topics in Internet circles for the past several years.  After more that a year of heated discussion among policy-makers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has finally passed a “net neutrality” law that prohibits internet service providers from charging fees in exchange for faster access.

Under these new rules, ISPs are classified as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which means that internet providers may be regulated in the same way as utility companies that provide electricity and natural gas.

The new net neutrality rules were voted on by five FCC commissioners who voted along party lines, three Democrats for and two Republicans against.

The Effect on Internet Service Providers

Proponents of the new law say it will prohibit large companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon from paying internet service providers extra money for the privilege of dominating internet fast lanes. They also argue that the law will prohibit ISPs from slowing down internet traffic and blocking access to competitors or legal content.

Opponents of the law say the rules are another unnecessary government overreach. Additionally, opponents worry that the new rules (which were never voted on by Congress) could empower the FCC with a new sweeping regulatory authority akin to the powers the agency currently wields over broadcast media like cable and television.

They argue that such regulatory authority could result in internet censorship and hamper the freedoms individual users have long enjoyed online since the dawn of the information age.

More than two dozen broadband companies, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and others have publicly objected to the new rules, stating that they are too heavy-handed and could inhibit innovation and investment in a better internet. They argue that the rules would give the FCC the authority to set prices for services, and if prices are set too low, internet providers will not be profitable enough to invest in network expansion and service innovation.

However, the FCC has explicitly stated it has no plans to artificially set service rates.

What Net Neutrality Means For You

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Smooth Content Streaming

So how do the new net neutrality rules affect you, the end user? For starters, internet service providers won’t be able to block or slow down your streaming movie services from content providers like Netflix and Amazon just because they feel like it.

Unimpeded File Sharing

Also, ISPs won’t be able to throttle bandwidth for users who like to share files online through file-sharing networks like BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella. If you are paying for unlimited data, you’ll actually get unlimited data.

Customer Complaints

Additionally, if you have a complaint about your service provider that the provider won’t address, you can now go “over their head” and complain to the FCC. The new law has provided the FCC with the authority to address customer complaints in the event that the customer’s internet service provider declines to do so.

Personal Data Plans

If you have an internet service plan that provides limited data with a usage cap, you probably won’t see much of a change at all. Once you hit your limit, your carrier is still entitled to throttle your data usage at that point in time.

App Access

Previously, some ISPs and broadband carriers were able to block apps that competed with services, apps, or sites associated with their own platform. For example, some internet providers had previously blocked Google Wallet in order to promote Softcard instead.  Those days are over.

Your Choice of Internet Carriers

According to Digital Trends, the bad news is that from now on, you’re pretty much locked into the service provider choices you already have now.  There is no way for competitive broadband companies to launch a service without investing big money into nationwide fiber connections (like Google is doing right now).

Less competition means large providers have no incentive to offer affordable rates for broadband internet service.

What do You Think?

What do you think about the new net neutrality rules? Do you think the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa?  Sound off in the comments section below.