After a bitter five year debate, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to pass a set of net neutrality rules at a meeting today that draw a stark distinction between wireline and wireless internet, scoring a measured victory for net neutrality advocates but spelling uncertainty for the future of the web. On the one hand, traditional hard-line internet providers will be prohibited from blocking or reducing access to any sites or applications. But wireless providers – read: the future – are given far more leeway to limit access to certain services or applications.
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For those who haven’t been following the debate, what’s at stake here is unfettered access to everything – everything that’s legal anyhow – on the web without interference from internet service providers. Net neutrality, as the notion is called, aims to prevent ISPs from showing favoritism to one web service (say, Netflix streaming over Amazon streaming) or to sell better bandwidth to one company over another. It also aims to keep ISPs from charging entities that consume a lot of bandwidth – again, Netflix streaming is a good example – higher service fees (thus driving up the cost to consumers). Keeping the web open and undiscriminating, the net neutrality argument goes, ensures that online innovation continues unhindered.
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