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How net neutrality might affect your Internet use

Cables plugged into modem

CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly described Internet providers' access to the Internet. Providers pay fees to gain access. The text has been corrected.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Tomorrow's going to be a very big day for telecommunications geeks. It could also be a big day for the rest of us and for how we use the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on what you might fairly call the rules of the road for the web. The board could stop Internet providers from blocking some sites or shifting them to slower connections. But it could also mean paying more to stream your favorite TV show online.

From New York, Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.


Janet Babin: The FCC will likely decide that the online space stays a meritocracy: a place where small Internet websites are just as fast and accessible as the bigger established ones.

Tim Wu's a professor at Columbia Law School.

Tim Wu: So the best sites win. YouTube is successful because people like it, rather than, Google made a good deal with Verizon or AT&T or something.

Some high-speed Internet providers want to block or slow information online, or charge websites for a "fast lane" so consumers would get to the websites more quickly. That worries new Internet startups, and the companies that invest in them.

John Borthwick is CEO of Betaworks. The company was an early financial backer of the Internet sites Twitter and Groupon.

John Borthwick: It hurts innovation in general, and I think that a tremendous amount of innovation we've seen on the Internet is driven by the presumption that the platform is free and open for people to build on.

Right now most consumers pay fees to access the Internet, but it's free to website providers. Those providers fear that could change. Like a lot of federal regulations, the Internet traffic debate has devolved into a political push and pull. A few key Republican senators have promised to block any FCC action.

Communications attorney Robert Rini says some Republican lawmakers think the rules are unnecessary.

Robert Rini: The strange part about Washington D.C., sometimes, is that people get worked up about things that are just theoretical. Largely, there is no problem to solve at this moment.

But some Republicans do advocate that Internet service providers should be able to manage traffic over their networks as they see fit. And that may include upping charges for accessing some websites. Reuters reported today that the FCC may allow that. Whatever happens, judicial challenges to the FCC rules are expected.

In New York, I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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