January 6, 2018
So far, so good. You're reading this on the internet, after all. Maybe the end of net neutrality won't be so bad.
You've probably heard how on Dec. 14 the Federal Communications Commission repealed regulations that had been put in place by the FCC in 2015. The rules had prohibited broadband providers from blocking consumers from visiting any particular website or charging higher prices to access certain content faster.
In other words, all websites and their content would be considered equal, hence the phrase, net neutrality.
But those rules are gone now, and replacing those rules? A lot of hand wringing, with suggestions that internet service providers, or ISPs, are going to have far more power over the internet than they should. So what does all of this likely mean, going forward, for your internet, cable and phone bill? A lot of questions still need to be answered.
Higher prices for consumers? As anyone who pays for the internet knows, the price for accessing the web from your provider, whether through your cable or phone company or some other type of service, is always climbing, but there have been a lot of predictions that it's going to go way up.
"Get ready for home internet prices to double," announced a headline from a recent article on BGR.com, a mobile and technology website.
"Get set: Your internet bill is about to soar, thanks to Trump's FCC," announced another headline in a December Los Angeles Times column.
"Like the internet? That may change with net neutrality gone," read another headline from the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, in December.
Whatever happens with prices due to the repeal, whether they go up or possibly down for some customers due to competition, the overall results won't be good, according to Mitch Canter, a web developer in Franklin, Tennessee.
"The repeal of net neutrality is going to be bad, but it's going to be bad in ways that are different than what the main complaints are," Canter says. "With net neutrality gone, ISPs and phone carriers can now prioritize traffic and charge based on the type of content served. That much we know. But the problem is that it's going to cause segmentation in the market and cause the consumer to have to purchase more, different services in order to get the same things that were once available for free."
Canter offers up an example of what he envisions. "An ISP wants a user to pay more to use Netflix – or [the user] could pay extra and bundle their own personal movie streaming service [through the ISP], and it doesn't count against their data cap," he says.
That bundling part might sound OK, but as Canter says, "This forces the user into purchasing services that they may not want, but would need so that their data cap is protected from overages."
In other words, your internet could look a little like how you use cable – that is, if you're still a cable subscriber. Instead of paying for channels you never watch, you may essentially pay to have access to websites you never use.
Slower speeds for some websites? In theory, any cable or phone company could decide to weaken the speed of a streaming video service like Netflix or YouTube with the hopes that its customers would notice that its own streaming video service is faster. A cable or phone company could also ask a Netflix or YouTube type of company to pay more to the ISP in order to offer fast speeds to customers and remain competitive.
For some time now, in fact, proponents of net neutrality have been concerned that without regulations, ISPs could essentially split websites into "fast lanes" and "slow lanes." That could mean a lot of winners and losers across the internet.
And while presumably a big company with deep pockets would have no trouble paying to be in a fast lane, if you're a business owner with a streaming company that you're trying to turn into a global presence, you may not have a lot of extra money to fork over to the ISP.
"Allowing ISPs to manipulate this traffic to boost profits runs contrary to the way the internet has worked up until now – and bears more than a passing resemblance to a protection racket," says Charlie Curtsinger, assistant professor of computer science at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.
Will it be harder to find what you're looking for on search engines? Possibly.
Let's say that you have a favorite retailer, whose website isn't loading as fast as a bigger retail website, such as Amazon.com or Walmart.com. As a loyal customer, maybe you'll keep going to your favorite retailer, but maybe many other customers won't. Maybe your favorite online retail store will have trouble staying in business because they have trouble attracting internet traffic.
Lisa Chu fears that type of scenario. An entrepreneur in El Monte, California, she owns blacknbianco.com, an online retailer that specializes in children's formal wear.
"The biggest concern I have with the end of net neutrality is my inability to compete with giant retailers who can afford to pay the higher rent. Telecom and broadband companies have the capability to completely wipe my business off the internet unless the consumers or my small business pay a premium," she says.
But it isn't only business owners who are hurt, according to Chu. "Everyone will essentially be paying higher prices for the same services we currently have," she says. "No one benefits from the end of net neutrality other than the telecom companies."
But there's another problem with smaller websites being unable to compete with larger websites. Search engines, like Google, often attach lower rankings to slower websites. So if a smaller website with content that you want and need isn't able to pop up anywhere near the first batch of websites that appear in a ranking, because they can't afford to pay to be in that fast lane, you might never find what you're looking for.
All of this said, before you toss your devices or computer aside and declare yourself off the grid for good, the FCC presumably could change the rules again down the road. Plus, there are a number of states that have announced their intentions to challenge the repeal in court; that may end up helping the regulations evolve later. Nobody knows for sure how the internet will change going forward.
Still, Canter is certainly pessimistic about the repeal. "My whole identity and business is on the internet, and I hate to see it fall like this. It's going to change the face of the internet – and how we gather information – as we know it," he says.
Courtesy/Source: U.S. News & World Report