The End of Net Neutrality

As technology goes, the Internet is still a fairly new and emerging technology.  It has changed a lot in the past 25 years and 25 years from now, it may well be unrecognizable to people who use it today.

One thing that is obvious now and will likely not change is that a relatively small handful of companies can control what happens on the Internet in a big way, making it either more or less useful to consumers depending on the actions these companies might take.

internetThe U.S. government saw this coming in 2015 and had the Federal Communications Commission enact rules requiring that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) engage in what they called “net neutrality.

That meant that companies that consumers pay to access the Internet must treat all legitimate Websites and the traffic to and from those sites equally.  The ISPs could not favor one Website over another and they were required to allow equal access and upload/download speeds to all users for all sites, without prejudice.

There’s a new administration in Washington, and they’re determined to undo anything that looks like a government regulation and anything that the previous administration did, just because.

One of the things the FCC decided to do, by a 3-2 vote, was to end net neutrality.

net neutralityWhat does this mean for consumers?  Possibly nothing, as all of the major ISPs have declared that they’re going to change nothing as a result of the ruling.

But they very well might.  Over time, we’ve seen a lot of mergers in the digital world, and we’re starting to see mergers between content providers and Internet providers.

With millions of people now streaming television programs and movies over the Internet, it might be beneficial to an ISP that owns a content provider, such as Hulu, to limit their customers’ access to other sites that provide content, such as Netflix.

This could manifest itself in several ways.  The ISP could “throttle” or slow down, traffic to sites that were not in its favor.  They could charge those sites a fee to have access to the ISPs customers; Netflix might have to pay a fee to Comcast, for instance, to ensure that the speed of their programming wasn’t limited.

In the past, some ISPs were throttling speeds for users who were downloading files using Bit Torrent clients.  These are data-intensive applications, which, at certain times of the day could cause all Internet traffic to slow down.  As much (but not all) Bit Torrent traffic consists of illegally downloaded content, many ISPs chose to slow down that type of traffic at certain times of day.

They had to stop doing that when the previous administration put the neutrality rules in place, but it’s a virtual certainty that such speed control will come back.  You might have a 100 megabit Internet connection, but if your ISP wants you to download files at modem speeds, they can do that, and it will be perfectly legal.

There are lawsuits that are going to be filed over this and it remains to be seen if the courts will rule in favor of consumers or if they’ll rule in favor of corporations.

In the end, you might end up paying the same amount of money for slower and worse Internet service.