Net Neutrality: What's at Stake for You After Today's Vote

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

The Federal Communications Commission today passed net neutrality rules after a decade-long debate over whether the Internet should be regulated in the same way as public utilities.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers and impose utility-style regulations, preventing companies from degrading service, limiting access and creating a so-called fast lane with a tiered subscription approach.

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

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.