net neutrality

Net Neutrality: The Battle For The Net

net neutrality

In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Spectrum, should treat all websites equally, regardless of its kind, source, or destination.

The Internet was built to be a free market and open democracy from the very beginning, but specific rules governing how ISPs operate were not created until 2015. The rules banned ISPs from blocking or impairing paid consumers’ access to all lawful websites and prohibited “paid prioritization,” when a provider optimizes connection to websites that pay a fee.

The FCC voted to repeal net neutrality 3-2 along party lines. FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican and former Verizon executive, said the end of net neutrality would encourage ISPs to increase their capacity and develop new services. It would “restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years.”

Critics argue that the new regulations give too much power to ISPs. With the ability to create fast and slow lanes for websites, providers could potentially charge big broadband users like Netflix to increase its steaming speeds. As a result, additional fees could get passed down to customers and competitors would be stuck with slower speeds.

ISPs would also be able to effectively steer consumers to content that serves their business. For example, under net neutrality rules, Verizon was not allowed to slow down, block, or charge Google extra fees in order to give priority to Yahoo and AOL, which Verizon owns. Under the new rules, this kind of favoring would be legal provided that it was disclosed.

If the Internet always operated this way, bloggers and YouTube personalities would never have taken off because consumers would not have been able to find them. This TechCrunch article points out that ISPs could even look for innovative startups, thwart them, and set up their own copycat services.

Pai says the FCC repeal “is not going to end the Internet as we know it,” and ISPs echo this statement.

“The Internet will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has,” said AT&T.

Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation wrote, “We don’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content delivered over the Internet, and we are committed to continuing to manage our business and network with the goal of providing the best possible consumer experience.”

Although they have promised prices won’t change, experts anticipate Internet service providers will eventually change their pricing models, similar to those offered in Portugal where net neutrality doesn’t exist. It is likely that Internet offers will eventually change to zero-rating and subscription packages, where certain services are bundled and can be added on depending on how you like to use the web. For instance, there might be a social media package that permits you to use particular platforms without taking up your monthly Internet allowance.

This practice could have a positive or negative impact on consumers depending on how it is implemented. Subscription bundles could be a good way for competitors to differentiate themselves, and light Internet users may end up saving money. However, for those who live in areas that don’t offer more than one ISP or for many who are used to browsing lots of different websites, it could mean a higher bill.

Pro-neutrality groups are already preparing a legal battle with the support of the Internet Association, whose member companies include Google, Facebook and Netflix. At least 21 states and the District of Columbia have filed a federal court lawsuit aimed at reversing the FCC ruling.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, said a bill he introduced would use the state’s regulatory powers to have net neutrality as a stipulation in state contracts with cable companies. However, the FCC’s proposal prevents any local rules that establish “more stringent requirements” on ISPs, arguing that it would be too challenging for companies to treat traffic differently in each state.

“Internet access is a utility – just like water and electricity. And every consumer has a right to access online content without interference or manipulation by their internet service provider, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “However, in repealing the net neutrality rules, the FCC ignored consumers’ strong support for a free and open internet.”

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