Net Neutrality Rules Take Effect: What It Means for You

PHOTO: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 25, 2015, in Washington.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 25, 2015, in Washington.

The net neutrality rules approved earlier this year by the Federal Communications Commission go into effect today after a federal judge blocked challenges from cable and phone companies.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should treat all online content equally without giving preference to particular sources -- for example, charging more for sites that stream movies.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the judge's decision to not stay the rules from taking effect today allows the commission to act as a "referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair and open."

"Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past," he said in a statement on Thursday. "The rules also give broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks."

While it was a victory for Wheeler and the supporters of net neutrality, the fight over net neutrality isn't over, as telecom companies are still trying to have the rules overturned. The judge's decision on Thursday was merely not to stay the rules. The lawsuit itself continues.

Here's a quick breakdown of what net neutrality means for cable companies and consumers:

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

The FCC voted in February to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That measure helps control what consumers are charged and their access to Internet service, because it is deemed something critical to society, similar to electricity or phone service.

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 socioeconomic digital divide could develop, creating a class of information "haves" and "have nots."