NEW YORK – New rules that treat the Internet like a public utility and prevent companies from blocking or slowing down some online traffic took effect Friday.
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Cable and telecom industry groups have sued to have the Federal Communications Commission's rules over what's known as net neutrality thrown out, arguing they are too onerous. But on Thursday, a federal appeals court declined to block the rules from taking effect as the industry litigation against them proceeds.
Here's a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies:
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY, AND WHAT ARE THE NEW RULES?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers treat all Web traffic equally, and it's how the Internet works today. The FCC enacted rules that protect that, to make sure cable and phone companies don't manipulate traffic: They can't create special fast lanes for some content, like video from YouTube, or intentionally block or slow Web traffic. Many Internet providers say they don't plan to do those things, but the FCC worried that they could.
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WHAT'S CHANGING FOR CONSUMERS?
In enacting its rules, the FCC placed Internet service in the same regulatory camp as telephone service. That means providers have to act in the "public interest" when supplying Internet service and refrain from "unjust or unreasonable" business practices. The FCC can investigate complaints about industry practices that might violate net-neutrality principles, even if they're not specifically prohibited by the rules. Complaints can be filed here: https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/ .
The FCC can also hear disputes over commercial deals between Internet providers and companies like Netflix or Internet traffic companies like Cogent. Companies could complain that broadband providers are charging them too much to connect to their networks, for example. (These "interconnection" deals address how content gets to the gates of an Internet service provider's networks — a separate issue from the banned paid fast lanes within an Internet provider's network that would deliver some content more quickly to consumers.)
Fights over these arrangements had in the past led to a slowdown in Netflix streaming speeds for customers of several major Internet service providers.
WHICH COMPANIES ARE AFFECTED?
Internet suppliers, whether through a smartphone or a wire to your home. That includes Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.
WHY IS THE INDUSTRY OPPOSED?
Companies say they don't want the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules. They say the regulations will undermine investment in broadband, and that it's not clear what is and isn't allowed under the greater authority the FCC has to investigate unspecified complaints.
They are also concerned about price regulation. The FCC says it won't preapprove the prices companies set for Internet access. But consumers can complain about the cost of their service and the government can look into it under the new rules.