What's at stake in the net neutrality debate

The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday on a question that will change the Internet for all of us: Should some Americans be allowed to pay extra for faster service, or is Internet access a new American right -- equal for all. It's called net neutrality.

The FCC wants to prevent big users of the Internet, like Netflix and social media sites from buying express lanes on the Information Superhighway.

FCC to vote on changes to "net neutrality" regulations

Althea Erickson is the policy director at Etsy, an online shopping site.

"The Internet is at stake," Erickson says. "This is going to impact everybody's lives. The decision the FCC is making will determine what the Internet looks like going forward, and that impacts you and me and our parents and our families and our friends."

Millions of Americans expressed concern on the FCC'S website. One big worry was that large companies would be allowed to pay a fee for Internet "fast lanes." Smaller companies that couldn't afford the fees would have slower access to their sites.

"It's hard to imagine a world where your cable company gets to decide which websites load fastest," Erickson says. "I don't think many American consumers want to give that kind of trust to the cable industry."

The FCC is proposing a first: Reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, like a phone company. That would ensure everyone continues to get equal access. Former FCC Chairman Robert McDowell doesn't like the idea.

"Without rules, the Internet has flourished beautifully without the 'help' of government," McDowell says. "What is broken that needs fixing?"

It will take a simple majority of the five-person commission to pass the rules. Even so, the fight might not be over.

Lobbyists will be trying to influence how the rules are interpreted, and opponents are expected to go to court to overturn the new rules.