Social media spheres blew up last week as online users and websites alike warned against the proposed repeal of net neutrality. Ajit Pai — chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) — put forth his plan to get rid of net neutrality Nov. 21, the principle of equal access to data on the web.
With the vote expected to pass, people who use the internet for its wealth of free and cheap content — including college students — could end up paying more for less as telecommunication companies get more control.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) can’t slow down or block the delivery of certain websites or charge fees for quality internet connection or access to a greater bundle of websites.
Net neutrality was enacted under the Obama administration in 2015. An FCC ruling said ISPs such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast must behave like public utility companies in providing broadband internet service. It’s these regulations that prevent Comcast from slowing down Netflix streaming and charging users a fee for faster service or Verizon from taking money from Twitter to slow down or block a competing social media site on its service. It also prohibits ISPs from charging users for so-called “fast lanes” — costs customers would have to pay to access data at the speed they do now for a normal subscription.
Are there any benefits of net neutrality’s repeal?
While internet companies such as Netflix and Google have stood for net neutrality — arguing its repeal would hinder competition among digital businesses and the free flow of data — ISPs argue it’ll only help.
Those who favor net neutrality’s repeal argue the current rules apply too much government interference to the online market and disincentivize innovation in ISP business models. ISPs also argue they must pay for the expansion of broadband infrastructure, such as towers and cables, as online services eat up more space while ISPs reap none of the financial gain.
Comcast responded to the net neutrality proposal in a Nov. 22 tweet and promised transparency in its policies going forward should a repeal pass.
“We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content. We will continue to make sure that our policies are clear and transparent for consumers, and we will not change our commitment to these principles,” the company’s tweet said.
What could happen if net neutrality is repealed?
The FCC will meet Dec. 14 to decide the fate of net neutrality. There are three conservatives on the five-person commission, so the repeal is expected to pass.
A college student who loves to binge-watch content on Netflix could see both their internet bill and Netflix subscription rise in price. An ISP like Comcast could charge more for high-speed internet and also charge Netflix to support its streaming content — a cost Netflix could likely pass on to the consumer.
The repeal would lift all current regulations requiring ISPs to provide equal broadband internet service to customers. While nothing is set in stone, and ISPs have stressed in the past few days they’ll be transparent with any new policies and services, customers may have to start paying more per month for high-speed internet service or for full access to the web.
Proponents of net neutrality envision two main plans for customers if net neutrality is repealed — a cheap plan with a standard (meaning slower) speed and fast lanes that would provide a higher cost plan for the high-speed internet service customers have come to expect.
Proponents also warn with the repeal that ISPs could begin to play favorites with bigger internet companies. For example, if a young, small digital startup aims to compete with online retail giant Amazon, it might have to pay ISPs a fee to be accessed by users at the highest quality — a fee Amazon could easily afford, while smaller companies might not. Those against net neutrality’s repeal warn this would create a significant barrier of entry and stifle the competition that allowed internet companies to explode in the first place.