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Net neutrality rules are coming. Here's why they matter.

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(Read caption) The same month that the FCC debuted its rules on net neutrality (which will go into effect on November 10), the commission appointed David Robbins, pictured, as its managing director.

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Net neutrality is finally real, or at least will be in a few months. The new rules for Internet companies will be put into place on November 20 – unless they get derailed by lawsuits. The guidelines, written by the US Federal Communications Commission, say essentially this: Internet providers can’t deliberately block or slow speeds for “heavy” Internet users, such as people who stream movies or play online games, nor throttle traffic from a certain source, such as from competitors or peer-to-peer downloads.

The rules might get delayed or prevented, though, by lawsuits that Internet providers have brought against the FCC. The legal contention stems from the basic argument against net neutrality: companies such as Verizon and AT&T say they ought to be able to charge more from consumers who use more data. They worry that heavy data consumption – such as streaming movies or downloading music – slows down the online experience of other users, forcing providers to spend more on infrastructure.

On the flip side, consumer advocacy groups and other net neutrality proponents argue that the Internet should be freely accessible to everyone, and that artificially throttled speed, fines for heavy downloading, and other usage penalties stifle innovation and creativity. The Internet should be a “neutral” playing field for all, goes this line of reasoning.

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