Q&A: Net Neutrality Rules Go Into Effect — What’s Next?

New rules that treat the Internet like a public utility and prohibit blocking, slowing and creating paid fast lanes for online traffic took effect Friday.

Cable and telecom industry groups have sued to have the rules thrown out, arguing they are too onerous. But on Thursday, a federal appeals court declined to block the rules from taking effect as the industry litigation against them proceeds. A court could still eventually overturn the rules.

There will be no immediate effect on how consumers and companies use the Internet. Broadband providers today typically treat content from different websites and services equally.

"We had the Internet for some time obeying such principles but they've never been codified. Now they have been codified," said Nicholas Economides, a professor at New York University's Stern business school and an expert on networks and telecommunications. "Consumers should not see any substantial difference."

Regulators, consumer advocates and Internet companies like video site Vimeo and crafts marketplace Etsy had concerns about Internet providers' power over Web traffic. For example, there were worries that being able to pay for a special Internet fast lane would let richer companies more easily reach users and stifle the growth of newer, poorer startups.

What is new: The Federal Communications Commission will be able to investigate complaints about "unreasonable" business practices by Internet providers that aren't explicitly banned. Many broadband companies say this invites uncertainty -- they don't know what's allowed.

Here's a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies:

What Is Net Neutrality, and What Are the New Rules?

So-called net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers treat all Web traffic equally, and it's how the Internet works today. The FCC enacted rules that protect that, to make sure cable and phone companies don't manipulate traffic: They can't create special fast lanes for some content, like video...

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