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The death of net neutrality (the internet is about to change)

The internet could be in for a big change, and soon. Some of the internet’s most democratized regulations have expired, meaning, there is now a wide-open playing field for providers to offer web-based services and change the way we access the internet. 

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic — which includes emails, digital files, web browsing and more — should be treated equally. This concept, coined in 2003 by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu, has led to an internet based on equality, where users and services were all treated the same by internet service providers (ISPs).

On Dec. 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to do away with the regulations surrounding net neutrality, a ruling that recently went into effect, and could drastically change the way the internet is accessed by Americans across the country.

Why is it gone?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been vocal about his displeasure over net neutrality laws enacted by the Obama administration. 

Pai, and others who want to do away with neutrality completely, see the need to open the telecommunications industry more freely to competition. This, they claim, will create easier entry points into the industry for new and innovative providers and services and give telecommunications providers the control to regulate the internet as needed.

According to the 1996 Telecommunications Act: “It is the policy of the United States … to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by federal or state regulation.”

Abolishing net neutrality allows ISPs to compete in a free market, charging different rates for service offerings. At the same time, because ISPs will be able to control and price network bandwidth, traffic congestion can be reduced by guarding against users hogging bandwidth and charge users who congest the network higher fees for causing traffic slowdown which negatively impacts other users. 

What could change?

With net neutrality intact, the internet was a platform that operated the same no matter who was using it or what they were doing. Now that these laws have been abolished, ISPs are free to offer or block access to individual sites and services as they see fit. Without net neutrality regulations, an internet provider such as Comcast, could “throttle” web traffic to Netflix, slowing down traffic to the site and making it take longer to stream media through the service.

Another possible outcome could be packaged internet bundles, similar to cable television, in which consumers would pay different prices based on the web services they would like to access, or pay more for faster web traffic. 

This could mean higher internet bills for those looking to access streaming or other web-based services, although providers such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have claimed they won’t make any such changes at the moment. 

At the same time this opens the door for a more free market in the telecommunications industry — one that would see providers offer a wider array of services and allow startups to more readily become industry participants with less of a barrier to entry. 

It remains to be seen exactly how the dissolution of net neutrality will play out in the end, but your internet package, and subsequent bill, could look a lot different a year from now.  

 

Dan Pelberg is a freelance business and technology writer and resident of Lakeville. He writes for startups, news outlets, financial firms and small businesses of all shapes and sizes.