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Man surfs the Internet in Beijing

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Kai Ryssdal: As expected, the Federal Communications Commission voted on new rules for the Internet today. Net neutrality is the buzzword you may have heard. The new rules mean some companies that provide online content -- Netflix, for instance -- could wind up paying more because downloaded movies take up a whole lot more bandwidth than other content does. Also, the rules make a distinction between good old-fashioned Internet connections -- the ones where a wire plugs into the back of your computer -- and the web you can get wirelessly -- say, on your mobile phone.

From New York, Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.


Janet Babin: Here's what FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said about the year-long agency effort.

Michael Copps: The Internet was born on openness. It thrived on openness and it will achieve its full potential only through continued openness.

But openness is in the eyes of the beholder. The rules do prohibit unreasonable discrimination on the Internet, so big cable and telephone companies that provide Internet service can't favor their own websites over others.

And the rules protect us Internet subscribers -- we get to access all the legal Internet content that's out there -- not just what our service provider wants us to see.

But the FCC rules say broadband companies are allowed to 'manage' data on their systems. Sascha Meinrath at the New America Foundation calls that language a loophole. He fears it means the price of Internet access for some companies and for us could rise. And that could shape what websites become our favorites.

Sascha Meinrath: Downloading a video or watching content or visiting a website may go faster or slower depending on whether the host of that website or that content pays an extra little bit to the network operators.

But many of us access the Internet through wireless devices or wireless connections these days. And these FCC rules give wireless companies even more leeway to manage their data traffic. Columbia law professor Tim Wu says that could also lead to discrimination.

Tim Wu: Let's say you buy a phone from Verizon, and all the Google stuff works really great, but Microsoft stuff doesn't really work well at all.

The final rules are officially out yet, but already, some consumer groups and others are considering legal challenges.

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


Ryssdal: A note about our story on net neutrality from yesterday's broadcast before we go on. Contrary to what we said, both sides of the Internet connection wind up paying -- customers at home and content providers. Netflix or anybody else running a website needs a connection to reach you as much as you need one to reach them.

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