The morning after: What do we do about net neutrality now?

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[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission just agreed to consider a set of proposed rules that would tacitly allow Internet providers to speed up some types of Web traffic at the expense of other types.

If adopted, it could fundamentally change how the Web works at a basic level.

Naturally, people have a lot of questions about what's going to happen. For one thing, Netflix could become more expensive. If it keeps signing deals with broadband companies like Comcast, just so that it can provide you with smoother service, it might consider jacking up your subscription fee to cover any extra expense it incurs.

The longer analysis is that the Netflix deal is not exactly the same as the types of deals we might see under the FCC's proposed rule, because its agreement with Comcast is about bringing data to Comcast's door -- not how Comcast routes that traffic to the end user over "last-mile" pipes.

As for how the Internet itself could change, it seems inevitable that Internet providers could speed up some traffic. However, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler did say that under the proposal (which is just a proposal!) broadband providers would not be allowed to slow down traffic to below what a user has bought and paid for. So if you have a 75 Mbps connection at home, for example, services should always be delivered at that speed.

Because of the potentially higher costs to Web-based businesses that may arise from the proposed rules, some smaller companies may languish in the slow lane because they can't afford to pay the fees assessed on large companies to reach broadband providers' subscribers. So, yes, small startups could be harmed by this outcome.

And while Chairman Wheeler has a connection to cable industry and brings an industry perspective into his thinking, it's probably unfair to say that he's been bought and paid for.

As for municipal networks, there are about 20 states with laws on the books that hinder cities from competing with big Internet providers by offering their own, public Internet service. The FCC has indicated, along with its net neutrality proposal that it wants to start preempting some of these state laws.

The morning after: What do we do about net neutrality now?