Update: The FCC and a group of Senators are looking to re-instate the net neutrality rules, so we've included those facts and what it means.
Internet content is no longer treated equally in 2014, as the Federal Communications Commission Open Internet Order ran into a closed courtroom door In January in the net neutrality case of Verizon v. FCC.
This controversial ruling in favor of internet service providers (ISPs) strikes down government regulations that had prohibited their discrimination of data that passed through their pipelines.
The mistake of the FCC was that it classified ISPs as "information service providers" in 2002. More than a decade later, the court's 3-0 decision saw through the agency's attempt to adopt rules as if ISPs were of the more regulated "common carriers" distinction applied to telecom companies.
Now Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner or whomever you get your internet from can legally increase the speed of content that conforms to their business needs and, without rebuke, slow down or even block content that rivals their own services.
If YouTube or Netflix are hogging up all of the bandwidth, for example, and your ISP has its own half-baked on-demand video service, it could essentially sabotage the download speeds of YouTube and Netflix and favor its own service.
This, as you can imagine, bodes poorly for content consumers, a.k.a. the American public.
FCC, Senators work to restore net neutrality
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and a handful of Democratic Senators aren't staying neutral in their net neutrality stance, insisting that the rules need to be re-instated for the good of consumers.
Wheeler said in a recent speech that he'll be "outlining" a plan to bring back the protections of net neutrality in the coming days, according to CNET. The chairman didn't go into detail about his plan, but it goes without saying that such a move is legally and politically tricky.
"We respect your desire to take a careful approach," said Senators Al Fraken, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal in a letter addressed to Wheeler.
"While it would be premature to reject any particular path forward, we urge you to act with expediency. Consumers, entrepreneurs and innovators deserve to know their right to view or use the content and service of their choice online will be protected."
From an open internet to a tiered internet
Proponents of net neutrality rules are alarmed at this verdict because it could create a tiered internet in which ISPs become the gatekeepers to what you can and can't access on the web.
The scenario in which Netflix is treated differently from a cable provider's own video on-demand service isn't so far fetched. It actually happened in 2012 and caught the attention of Netflix CEO and Comcast subscriber Reed Hastings.
Hastings noticed that Comcast didn't count the data used to stream video through its own Xfinity app on Xbox 360. A button click away, the video game console's Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go apps did count against the data cap instituted by Comcast, giving Xfinity an unfair advantage.
Scenarios like this make it clear that the choice as to which service is best may no longer be in the hands of users. ISPs could heavily influence your online habits from here on out.
Netflix has said it would incite a 44 million member protest if ISPs violate Net Neutrality and force it to pay for preferred streaming rights. But if this failed, it could mean the buck gets passed to subscribers in the form of higher Netflix prices.
That's not only bad for the well-funded Netflix and their members, it's devastating for the garage-based app developer with a legitimately innovative idea. The next Snapchat could easily be overshadowed by a deep-pocketed copycat like Facebook's inferior Poke app if it were too slow or counted against your data plan. Facebook would have the money to copy and compete, but two Stanford University students with an original idea would not.