This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
The end of net neutrality may soon be upon us.
Back up. Net neutrality? That's right. The idea that the Internet is a free and open platform and that Internet service providers and governments treat all Internet data equally. It doesn't matter if I'm streaming Netflix or reading someone's personal blog about their favorite movies on Netflix, the ISP treats both content the same.
Some have been looking at net neutrality issues for years, but most of us just take net neutrality for granted, until now.
In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected rules adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in 2010 that require all ISPs to give all Internet data equal treatment. The decision put net neutrality at risk.
Rather than appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, the New York Times reports that the FCC said that it is proposing new rules that could put an end to net neutrality as we know it. The idea would be that ISPs -- like Comcast or Verizon -- could charge content providers -- like Netflix, ESPN, YouTube -- more money to provide better faster service. That could mean your Netflix stream is fast but a startup video company will seem slow and outdated because they can't pay for the Internet fast lane.
The FCC will vote on the proposal on May 15 and is encouraging public comments. To net neutrality advocates, already petitioning the White House, the FCC says it's not as bad as it seems.
Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, offered a blog post to defend the proposal.
"There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission," Wheeler said. "The Notice does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule."
The good news: FCC isn't allowing lawful content to be blocked. Still, Wheeler doesn't address the fact that content providers would be able to pay more for better service from ISPs.
But even as the FCC says that "behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted," consumer advocates say that the new rule could mean higher prices for Internet services or a restructuring of Internet packages that make consumers pay a premium for access to certain sites.
On the other hand, wireless providers argue that the proposal would be good for consumers because they wouldn't have to pay for the data they don't use and better quality services would be available.
But as Michael Weinberg, of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge told the New York Times: "This standard allows Internet service providers to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet."
Still, nothing is final. (You can voice your opinion here.) The way you currently use the Internet isn't going to change overnight. But things could be changing in the near future.