How End of Net Neutrality Might Change the Internet

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Many people predict the Internet will change for the worse when the FCC ends the concept known as net neutrality early next year, as expected. Others contend the change will help. The concept is difficult to grasp, even for tech-savvy consumers. In essence, the Obama-era FCC enacted the policy of net neutrality to ensure that Internet service providers treat all legal online content equally; they are prohibited, for example, from slowing down streaming speeds from a video service that competes with one of their own services. Now, FCC chairman Ajit Pai contends that policy was an overreach and is actually harmful to consumers. As with almost everything else these days, political battle lines seem to be drawn on this issue, with progressives favoring the existing policy. The Republican-controlled FCC is expected to rescind the policy, and the new rules would take effect next year. Here are some ways the end of net neutrality could change the Internet, based on various media reports.

The end of net neutrality could lead to higher prices for consumers. © Shutterstock

Subscription Packages, Higher Prices Could Become Norm

“Expect a gradual shift towards subscriptions that provide unlimited access to certain preferred providers while charging extra for everything else. … the future internet, then, could look a more extreme version of today’s mobile plans, with different pricing tiers for different levels of video quality for different apps. That means more customer choice, but perhaps not in the way anyone actually wants.”


Slower Access to Certain Sites Is Likely

“The elimination of net neutrality means that internet providers can carve up service into fast and slow lanes, charging more for higher speeds. Comcast could demand fees from Netflix, for example, in exchange for preferential treatment. … If content companies don’t want to pay, internet service providers could make them so slow that they’re unwatchable or even block access to competitors’ sites.”


New Rules Could Spur More Investment in the Internet

“The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015 when these heavy-handed regulations were adopted. And once we remove them, I think we’ll continue to see the infrastructure investment that will benefit digital consumers and entrepreneurs alike.”
— FCC chairman Ajit Pai, in an interview with NPR.


Online Research, Shopping Could be More Difficult

“For those websites and online applications that don’t — or can’t — pay for access to the “fast lane,” it may be harder to access, load and use their sites. The inconvenience of using these “slow lane” sites may leave consumers less informed when it comes to shopping or searching for consumer information online, experts say. … These increased costs for content providers may also make it harder for startup media companies, which can’t afford to pay for priority speeds, to become competitors. That next market disrupter? That next Facebook? Netflix? It might never be launched, making the internet a less robust marketplace for consumer services, such as price-comparison sites or low-cost entertainment options.”


Big Internet Companies Will Benefit

“The brand-name internet companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix, analysts say, will comfortably be able to pay the higher rent. It will not affect their business, though it may crimp their profits. … The government-backed guarantee of equal access is why public interest groups, nongovernmental organizations, charities and millions of private citizens wrote to the F.C.C. in support of the net neutrality rules.”
New York Times


Fears of ISP Monopolies Abusing Power May be Overstated

“Proponents of net neutrality are typically worried about the monopoly and pricing power held by cable companies and other internet service providers. Options for access, however, are improving. Cellphone service is falling in price, smartphones are growing in size and quality, and Wi-Fi connections are all over the place. That said, a lot of monopoly power remains. But look at it this way: Those monopolists don’t want to distort the consumer experience too much, so they can keep charging high prices.”


Expect More Partnered Services

“To get a sense of how things will be different, look no further than AT&T’s new product called DirecTV Now, which lets users stream content from DirecTV (which AT&T owns) over the wireless network without it counting against their monthly data cap. … Late last year the (FCC) expressed “serious concerns” that AT&T was unfairly favoring its own content. Pai’s FCC, on the other hand, will likely encourage such products.”


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