Update: FCC has approved net neutrality rules, broadband has been reclassified as a utility

After more than ten years of legal wrangling, the FCC is finally voting on Net Neutrality today. Here are six things you need to know about the landmark vote.

1. What is Net Neutrality?

Although the FCC vote covers a lot of complex legal issues based on telecommunications regulations the idea of net neutrality is relatively simple. In a nutshell, the principle of a neutral Internet is to ensure that your Internet service provider doesn't make it easier for you to access one service over another -- Netflix over Tech Times for example. The idea is to prevent large companies gaining an unfair advantage by paying for faster Internet lines to the end customer which would make it more difficult for startups to enter and disrupt the market.

2. When is the vote happening?

The hearing started at 10:30 EST at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C. Before the net neutrality issue, the five commissioners will vote on a separate item about municipal broadband. The key vote on whether to reclassify broadband access as a "telecommunications service under Title II" is expected to take place in the early afternoon.

3. Why is the vote happening now?

In 2010, the FCC actually passed net neutrality laws, but in Jan. 2014, Verizon successfully appealed the law as the courts ruled that the FCC didn't have the regulatory authority to impose rules over Broadband. The court did say that if the FCC reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service that they could impose the law. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to go ahead with that reclassification which has brought us to today's vote.

4. What is the likely outcome?

There are three Democratic commissioners including Chariman Tom Wheeler and two Republicans. The vote should be three to two along party lines. Despite some issues two of the Democratic commissioners had over technical details, they are expected to vote in favor with Tom Wheeler. The Republicans will vote no, and outspoken Commissioner Ajit Pai is expected to criticize the new rules for at least an hour, but barring a major surprise the reclassification should be approved.

5. What will this change?

There's a lot of devil in the detail, but according to an FCC fact sheet there will be three main changes:

* No paid prioritization -- i.e., No fast lanes for big companies with deep pockets.

* No blocking -- Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

* No throttling -- Broadband providers cannot impair or degrade legal content.

There are, however, some potential loopholes which critics have pointed out, including how the new rules will prevent ISPs from forcing sites like Netflix to pay a toll in return for not having their streams degraded.

6. When will the changes come into effect?

The rules will go into effect 30 days after they appear in the Federal Register, which could take a few weeks. However, multiple lawsuits are expected to challenge the ruling, both from the big telecoms who will lose revenue and from the activists on the left and right who believe the ruling is going too far, or not far enough. The big telecom companies are expected to get a stay of the rules until appeals start, which should be in March or April. So the rules should be in effect in the next few months, but for how long will depend on the rulings from the appeals courts.
You can follow a live stream of the hearing here, or watch it on C-Span.

Photo: Libby Levi | Flickr

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