Over the last year, you’ve probably heard a lot of news about net neutrality. If you don’t fully understand the concept, you might not be sure exactly why it has set off such a political firestorm. But net neutrality is more than just a political issue—it affects everyone who uses the internet, individuals and businesses alike.
The general definition of net neutrality is that it is the idea that internet providers (like AT&T, Comcast and Spectrum) should allow access to all applications and content on the internet regardless of the source they come from and without either blocking or favoring any particular websites or sources.
Under net neutrality, an internet user would not have to pay the ISP extra to access a service like Netflix. The ISP would also be prohibited from throttling speeds for those types of services for any reason.
The United States had laws in place protecting net neutrality, but that came to an end in December 2017.
The FCC repeals net neutrality regulations
In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controversially voted to remove the rules that protected net neutrality and regulated internet service providers. As such, the government would no longer regulate high-speed internet like a utility in the same way it regulates telephone service.
This was a reversal of the agency’s own decision in 2015 to enforce net neutrality rules and place stronger oversight over providers of high-speed internet.
This is due in large part to the views of the Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai with regard to the role government agencies should take in terms of regulating corporations. Pai was a high-profile defender of the decision to repeal net neutrality rules, and along with the other two fellow Republican commissioners in the FCC passed the repeal 3-2 in a vote that went down party lines.
Pai argues that net neutrality rules stifle businesses and restrict their freedoms. However, critics of the new changes say consumers will have more difficulty in getting the content they want online, and it will cost more money for startup internet companies to be able to reach consumers, as ISPs will be more likely to prioritize wealthier corporations.
Major ISPs have claimed they will not change the online experiences of their users.
What effect will the repeal have on users?
It remains to be seen what sort of long-term effects will arise as a result of the decision to repeal net neutrality rules. However, there are some potential consequences that could arise without sufficient regulation.
For example, market competition could be stifled, because there would potentially be a higher barrier of entry for startups. Existing companies would have longstanding relationships with ISPs, so it would not be in the interest of ISPs to give any type of leg up to these startups.
ISPs are also no longer prohibited from blocking or filtering the content they provide to their users, or throttling speeds for certain websites, applications and services. This paves the way for a system in which ISPs could conceivably establish pay-to-play internet “fast lanes,” in which companies and consumers shovel over extra money to their service providers to be able to get the content they are currently getting for free.
Public opinion is strongly behind net neutrality protections, so it is likely only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back in the other direction. But until then, it bears watching ISPs and the new initiatives they employ to maximize their revenue.