This article has been updated.

The US Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal net neutrality is set to come into effect on 23rd April, according to the official publication of the order in the Federal Register. This also kicks off a 60 day window in which the US Congress can undo the reversal.

The publication is likely to start a wave of legal challenges. Last month, Attorney Generals in more than 20 states, as well as some tech firms, filed lawsuits. More are now set to follow.

The FCC announced plans last year to overturn 2015 rules that stopped internet service providers from preventing or restricting consumer access to certain content - so-called net neutrality.

Internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, had opposed the 2015 rules. The providers believe repealing the decision will allow billions of dollars of additional investment in broadband infrastructure.

But tech companies like Amazon, Reddit, and Etsy wanted to keep the Obama-era rules.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a term used to describe the principle that internet service providers should treat all of the data they're delivering to customers equally, and not block, slow down or charge extra to prioritize services.

So whether it’s a WhatsApp message from your mum, an email from work or a download of the latest episode of Game of Thrones, everything should be treated the same and reach you at the same speed. Net neutrality has been described as the “first amendment of the internet”.

One reason the issue is seen as so important in the United States is because the big cable providers, which supply the internet to the vast majority of US consumers, own many competing services.

Image: Statista

In 2015, the US Federal Communications Commission decided to enshrine the principles of net neutrality in law. The FCC also reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service companies as public utility providers which allowed the government to regulate the industry more closely.

But in early 2017, FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, announced plans to overturn the regulation. Opponents argue that it limits less costly or even free models from being offered, and potentially harms new online services that could not compete with dominant services without paid prioritization, among other reasons.

"The FCC will no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and preemptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive," he said.

Campaigners say removing the regulation will destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online.

The Internet Association, which represents tech firms including Alphabet and Facebook, said the proposal "undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet." However, the larger companies were individually largely silent on the recent action, leading some critics to believe that they would benefit from the rollback.

Fears have been raised that it will allow providers to charge more for access to specific content - dubbed 'fast lanes'.

However, the companies themselves say it will lead to increased broadband investment. Comcast is also reported as saying it will not "block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content."

The FCC's new rules require providers to disclose any blocking or slowing down of access to content. They'll also have to say if they've created paid-for fast lanes to specific content.

Mending the net

Net neutrality is something the man who invented the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, passionately believes in.

He says he is increasingly worried that the way the web is being used may restrict its potential and points to the way our data is used, the spread of misinformation and political advertising as other areas of concern.

The fact that concern about net neutrality is so widespread within the online commercial world will not be lost on the White House.