Last December, the Federal Communications Commission passed a vote to repeal net neutrality. Even with strong backlash and protests from internet users and democratic politicians, on June 11, 2018, the FCC repeal passed through the Senate, officially ending net neutrality.
WHAT IS THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION?
The FCC is an independent government agency that regulates communications by radio, cable, television, wire, and satellite. As the primary authority of interstate and international communications in the U.S, the FCC has complete control of governing communication law and the power to create or revise media regulations.
When you are watching your favorite movie on cable and the cursing is bleeped out or replaced with a phrase that doesn’t quite make sense, that is because of FCC regulations.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai, was the deciding vote in the net neutrality repeal. Pai, a Republican and longtime critic of the policy, believed net neutrality restricted businesses by disallowing network upgrades.
“And my concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas, for example.” Pai said during a PBS interview with William Brangham.
This interview took place in April of 2017, 3 months after Pai was named FCC chairmen by newly inaugurated President Donald Trump. Pai was clearly for its repeal, but what is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that all content on the internet must be treated equally by internet service providers. This means internet providers such as Comcast cannot charge money for the use of certain websites or content. It also means these companies are not allowed to block or slow down specific websites or internet content.
Net neutrality creates a level playing field for all websites, small or large. It also gives internet users free access to all internet content.
You are able to go on Google, search any page you desire and then access those sites without any charges or restrictions -- that’s because of net neutrality.
Some websites do have more visibility on search engines given their popularity and keyword use, but other websites are just as accessible. Why is this access being jeopardized and how were internet users granted this access in the first place?
The Origin of Net Neutrality
In 2003, net neutrality was coined by Columbia law professor Tim Wu, with the idea that service providers treat all internet traffic equally - in order to preserve long-term innovation on the internet.
In 2005, the FCC said that broadband providers may not block the lawful use of internet, unless the restriction was a reasonable usage of network management.
In 2007, Comcast was accused of stalling the operations of BitTorrent - a file-sharing website that allows free downloading of music, movies, and other digital media. The FCC later ruled in favor of BitTorrent, ordering Comcast to stop discriminating against the file-sharing site.
From 2005-2012 net neutrality was heavily contested by service providers. Every attempt to make it law eventually failed.
Under the Obama administration, the FCC found a loophole, they reclassified broadband ISPs as common carriers – allowing them to institute the official rules of net neutrality.
The rules went into effect in June of 2015. The internet, though now government regulated, allowed more freedom for internet users and websites. With the repeal of net neutrality, this freedom ended.
HOW WILL THE REPEAL OF NET NEUTRALITY AFFECT YOU?
The repeal of net neutrality is a win for internet providers and a loss for internet users. Providers will now be allowed to slow down the browsing speed of certain websites and block certain content.
Though companies have yet to enforce post net neutrality measures, they can now do so at any time. Nobody knows for sure what the exact effects will be, but there are some ideas of what impacts it could have.
You already pay monthly to access the internet. The more you pay, the faster the speed of your browsing. These bills can already be pricey depending on the speed you choose. What can happen now? In addition to that bill may be an extra monthly payment for faster speeds on all websites.
The speed of browsing on Facebook might still be fast but streaming on Netflix could be slowed down. An additional payment would allow you to view all or most websites at the same browsing speed. Without net neutrality, this is all up to your internet provider.
Slow buffering on streaming websites can be infuriating. Like, when you are streaming your favorite show and all of sudden it freezes, leaving you to wait for it to resume. Streaming issues caused by your internet speed or connectivity can now be done purposely by your provider. Paying a premium price might be necessary for streaming without issues.
PAY-PER VISIT/MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTIONS
Paying a small amount each time you visit a certain page is a theory popular among-st net neutrality supporters.
Can you imagine every google search costing a quarter? How much money a day would you spend on google alone? It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a real possibility.
Instead of paying for each visit, having to pay a monthly subscription for sites such as google could happen. If you want to watch premium channels like HBO, you must pay your cable company extra each month. Now, nothing is prohibiting internet providers from treating the internet like cable TV.
You want to watch Netflix? You pay monthly to use it. Without net neutrality, you could be forced to pay to even access it.
There’s a reason why large tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix were all against the repeal of net neutrality.
Higher costs for companies
Netflix was a strong opponent against the repeal of net neutrality.
“We've been supporting for years thru IA and Day to Save Net Neutrality with a banner on Netflix homepage for all users. More info in Q4 2016 earnings letter, as well. This current draft order hasn't been officially voted, so we're lodging our opposition publicly and loudly now.” Netflix tweeted, before the FCC’s ruling in December.
Now why would a large company like Netflix be worried about the repeal? Well, internet providers could charge them fees for their services and streaming speed or block their use completely.
If a company that provides internet also has stake in another streaming service, why would they allow Netflix access to their customers? Netflix loses customers and consumers either lose access to Netflix or need to pay extra for the service.
Limited internet choices
The internet could be split into packages. You could be limited to certain websites your specific package allows you to access. Sort of how cable companies make you pay for certain groups of channels.
Social media sites, sports sites, and weather sites are just a few examples of how packages could be sorted. All in which would cost separate monthly fees. You may only be able to afford certain packages, leaving out access to websites outside of it.
Small business discrimination
No net neutrality poses a risk to small businesses with websites. Say your favorite clothing company is online only and you don’t have with the funds to pay a monthly fee to reach customers.
Even though Pai said businesses are restricted by net neutrality, in fact, small businesses could be ruined without it.
Internet providers prioritizing certain sites and discriminating against others is no longer prohibited after the repeal. If a small business has to pay for traffic, but can’t afford it, what happens? They lose customers, customers they can’t afford to do business without.
YOU SHOULD BE CAUTIOUS, BUT DON’T PANIC YET
Though net neutrality has been repealed, it has had no effect yet. All the possibilities of what internet without net neutrality could entail are just theories, not facts.
The repeal of net neutrality is not beneficial for internet users, but it might not be as bad a lot of people think. Internet providers may do nothing. They may make it too expensive for lower income people. Nobody knows, and nobody will know until and if a company starts changing their internet service.
There is still a little hope that the repeal could be overturned. Though it is not likely, Congress could decide to reinstate net neutrality.
Individual states could make their own legislature on internet usage. Twenty-two states sued the FCC after the vote. They are not going to give up on net neutrality and neither will the millions of internet users who wrote to the FCC, pleading to keep free access to all content on the internet.