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The FCC’s Net Neutrality Vote Happens Thursday. Here’s What to Expect

December 13, 2017, 11:59 PM UTC

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality vote is scheduled for Thursday, December 14, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, and has the potential to radically alter the internet as we know it.

The Commissioner of the FCC, Ajit Pai, appointed to his post by President Donald Trump, has proposed reclassifying internet providers from utilities to information companies, and the rest of the commission is due to vote on it Thursday. If the vote goes along party lines, net neutrality will be repealed and internet providers will be able to legally control the speed of content running through their network, a practice that is currently prohibited. But for many reasons, the net neutrality vote is a controversial one.

Here’s everything you need to know:

What is net neutrality?

If Thursday’s net neutrality vote is giving you déjà vu, you’re not alone. Net neutrality regulations were originally put in place just two years ago in February 2015, when the Obama-era FCC voted to regulate Internet companies like they were a utility. “There are no toll roads on the information superhighway,” President Barack Obama said when he called for a net neutrality vote in 2014.

Under the Obama-era net neutrality guidelines, broadband providers were classified as Title II or “common carriers,” which meant they couldn’t discriminate in the traffic that flowed through their traffic. But Pai prefers less regulation, and believes that if the companies are subject to fewer restrictions, they’ll invest in more technologies to push the internet forward.

This is more than just difference of philosophies. Net neutrality impacts everything from how fast movies are streamed on Netflix to how much companies will charge for online services.

When is the net neutrality vote?

The net neutrality vote on Thursday comes after months of public commentary and consideration over whether to maintain or rollback the regulations approved by the FCC during 2015. If approved, broadband internet companies will be recategorized as a Title I information services instead of Title II common carriers. This would allow the companies to throttle traffic from websites and allow other sites to move faster through paid prioritization.

Who is voting on net neutrality?

FCC Commissioner Pai leads a 3-2 Republican majority commission staffed by other, less notable (but not less influential) commissioners. A former general counsel for Verizon, the Obama-appointed Republican has drawn public ire for being a telecommunications industry “puppet,” something that he even joked about at a recent event. Pai has long been outspoken on his disagreement with the principles of net neutrality, well before Trump tapped him to chair the FCC.

Likely to vote to uphold net neutrality, Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn was also appointed by President Obama and is described by the FCC as “a longtime champion of consumers and a defender of the public interest.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will also likely vote in favor of retaining net neutrality. The Democratic appointee has worked in communications law both privately and for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Republican appointee Michael O’Rielly has been with the FCC since 2013, and is likely to vote against net neutrality. O’Rielly has a resume filled with legal jobs with Congress, both in representative and committee offices. The newest commissioner to the FCC, Brendan Carr, was nominated by Trump in August, and is expected to vote against net neutrality as well. Carr is not unfamiliar with the FCC — he previously served as the commission’s general counsel.

What is the net neutrality debate?

The substantive issues of the net neutrality debate ahead of tomorrow’s vote are more important than the sideshow that has popped up around them. But that said, #netneutrality, as a movement, has generated a fair deal of headlines.

Most seriously is the issue of whether the FCC’s commenting system has been compromised, and if so, by whom. According to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, 2 million comments submitted to the FCC were fake and used the stolen identities of real Americans. That’s an alarming problem, and one that Schneiderman says the FCC did nothing to investigate.

Stuffing the comment box was John Oliver’s net neutrality strategy of choice, something the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight suggested through his “Go FCC Yourself” campaign. An ardent opponent of the Trump administration, Oliver launched a net neutrality protest campaign that was so successful, it even crashed the FCC’s website. (In response, the FCC has said the site was crashed by a cyber attack, and considering the two million fake messages, may very well be true — and reason for investigation.)

Many are wondering, does President Trump support net neutrality? With his penchant for hands-off regulations, it’s easy to assume that he doesn’t. Other than putting his support in Pai, Trump hasn’t weighed in on the topic in a long time — possibly since since 2014.

Interestingly enough, Twitter — which Trump loves — hates the idea of repealing net neutrality.

Where can you watch the FCC net neutrality vote live?

With the future of streaming video at stake, it only makes sense that the FCC would live-stream the net neutrality vote. Follow along on the FCC’s website starting at 10:30 a.m.

What comes after the net neutrality vote?

In the unlikely event that the net neutrality vote preserves the regulations, nothing changes. But what’s more likely is that the rule change will pass on party-line voting 3-2 in favor of a net neutrality repeal. There’s always the possibility that a net neutrality bill would codify the protections into law, but that would involve a highly partisan Congress working together. It could happen — after all, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of the FCC keeping net neutrality — but don’t hold your breath.

Instead, we’re more likely to see lawsuits as the next course of action in the net neutrality protest. According to Reuters, at least four groups — Common Cause, Free Press, the Internet Association, and Public Knowledge — have lawyers at the ready, weighing their legal options. And then it would be déjà vu all over again. In 2016, internet broadband providers sued the FCC over net neutrality protections — and lost.