The Internet may never be the same again.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down parts of the Federal Communications Commission net neutrality rules, meaning that Internet service providers (ISPs) now have the legal right to play favorites when it comes to Web traffic.
Basically, ISPs can now make some Web traffic go faster on certain websites, and can even block selected services all together. (They will, however, have to disclose when they are doing so.)
Still confused as to what this means? Let’s start with the basics.
(Read more: What happened to net neutrality yesterday?)
Net neutrality is the idea that an ISP should not control what websites people can access, or favor certain websites over others, said David Sohn, general counsel and director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Copyright and Technology.
“Carriers should be neutral and should provide users an end-to-end service so they can access any websites they want using that connection. The idea is that as long as the provider is neutral, all consumers can decide which services they like best,” he said.
In 2010, the FCC set into place regulations that were designed to reinforce this policy. However, Verizon Communications challenged the FCC in 2011, saying that the agency did not have the authority to mandate such regulations.
And on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that some rules challenged in the case—Verizon vs. FCC—did in fact not fall under the FCC’s domain.
Why should you care? Because now ISPs have the power to not only control more of what you can do on the Internet, they also have the power to limit opportunity for future users, like new Web companies.
“The concern is if instead of being neutral, ISPs play favorites, making some websites work faster than others, prioritizing some and blocking some, that really distorts the online marketplace,” Sohn said.
“It could steer users in a particular direction and it could make it hard for new innovators to start a business or do something new by just setting up a website. Now, small businesses could potentially have to negotiate with ISPs to roll out something new.”
While people shouldn’t expect to see any dramatic changes overnight, there could be big ones down the road, Sohn said.
“We’re more worried about it being more a case of erosion. They could start experimenting and favoring certain deals with certain companies and over time the neutrality of the Internet would erode,” Sohn said.
“This bites users in the end. Without the FCCs rules, it opens the door to non-neutral practices.”
—By CNBC’s Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.