Net Neutrality: FCC Chairman Supports Strongest Ever Open Internet Rules

PHOTO: Protesters march past the FCC headquarters before the Commission meeting on net neutrality proposal on May, 15, 2014 in Washington.PlayBill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images
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The Internet belongs to the people.

That's the message Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler sent today when he announced the strongest ever open Internet protections, which reclassify Internet Service Providers as common carriers and impose utility-style regulations.

“The Internet must be fast, fair and open,” Wheeler wrote in a Wired article today. “That is the message I've heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the Internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression."

Wheeler asked his fellow commissioners to join him in approving the proposal at the group's next meeting on Feb. 26.

There's been plenty of talk over the past year about net neutrality, also known as an open Internet. Wheeler's proposal will still have to be put to a vote. Here's a quick breakdown of what's at stake.

Cable Companies

While many Internet service providers say they're committed to a free Internet, what they want from the FCC is more leeway for how they package and sell various Internet plans. Activists have rallied against the idea over the fear it could create toll roads on the so-called "information superhighway."

Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the former chairman of the FCC, has previously said that over regulation will not foster an even more open Internet.

What It Means for Consumers

Classifying the consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act would help control what consumers are charged and their access to Internet service, which would be deemed something critical to society.

In everyday terms, think of it this way: There won't be any uneven service so everyone can stream their Netflix queue more or less at the same speeds. Supporters of net neutrality have also said that without regulation, a greater socio-economic digital divide could develop, creating a class of information "haves" and "have nots."

The President Weighs In

Since the FCC is an independent body, President Obama has no direct oversight, however it didn't stop the commander-in-chief from weighing in on the matter of net neutrality last year.

Among the four basic points of the president's plan are no blocking websites for certain users, no throttling (creating a fast and slow lane), more transparency between consumers and Internet service providers and no paid prioritization to move to the front of the line.