Just Whose Internet Is It Anyway? FCC To Answer

Whose Internet is it anyway? Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, says he's keeping that question in mind as he pitches the biggest regulatory shake-up to the telecommunications industry since 1996, when people still used noisy modems and referred to the "information superhighway" as a fun way to buy books or check the weather.

Wheeler has not publicly released his plan yet, and might not for a few weeks. But he has suggested that Internet service has become as critical to people in the United States as water, electricity or phone service and should be regulated like any other public utility.

Wheeler told reporters this past week that he wants "yardsticks in place to determine what is in the best interest of consumers as opposed to what is in the best interest of the gatekeepers."

That has the industry sounding the alarms, warning consumers of an inevitable $72 annual tax increase on each U.S. wireless account. But advocates of the approach say that is not likely to happen and that your Internet experience probably will carry on as usual.

A look at what "net neutrality" means and what is likely to happen:

The Issue

Net neutrality is the idea that Internet providers should not move some content faster than others or enter into paid agreements with companies such as Netflix to prioritize their data.

Broadband providers have questioned the fairness of this approach. They have invested heavily in a sophisticated infrastructure and question whether the government should be telling them how to run their networks and package services.

But what if the major cable companies that provide much of the nation's broadband had free rein to load some files faster than others? It is easy to imagine scenarios where these providers might favor content produced by their affiliates or start charging "tolls" to move data. Consumers...

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