On its website, the FCC sings the virtues of the Open Internet:
"The principle of the Open Internet is sometimes referred to as 'net neutrality.' Under this principle, consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others... Once you're online, you don't have to ask permission or pay tolls to broadband providers to reach others on the network. If you develop an innovative new website, you don't have to get permission to share it with the world."
This is the type of open, competition-friendly Internet protected by the FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order, a package of regulations that makes it illegal for Internet service providers (ISPs) to create Internet fast lanes for Web companies willing to pay a hefty toll.
A January 2014 court decision struck down portions of the Open Internet Order that blocked ISPs from creating these high-speed Internet toll roads [source: Ammori]. In response to the ruling, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler promised that his agency would continue to protect consumers and promote competition [source: Wheeler]. Net neutrality advocates were surprised and angry, therefore, when Wheeler — a former chief lobbyist for the telecommunications industry — released a set of proposed rules in April that allowed for the creation of paid fast lanes [sources: Cassidy and van Schewick].
If the FCC allows ISPs to give preferential treatment to high-paying clients, it could create a seriously uneven playing field in which small startups are relegated to the slow lane while wealthy corporations cruise along at light speed.