This is what the end of net neutrality means for you

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that threaten net neutrality, reports the New York Times.

You might think to yourself, as did I initially, with so much going on in the world, do I really need to concern myself with this as well? And what on earth is net neutrality anyway?

Let’s find out.

Net neutrality means that everything on the internet should be treated equally. Broadband providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast should treat all data, wherever it originates from, the same and shouldn’t favor some websites or block or to slow down others.

Under the current net neutrality rules, it is illegal for companies to offer a high-speed lane to corporations able to pay more or to effectively slow a rival service.

What it means for you: your emails gets the same priority as any government announcement.

Rolling back rules designed to ensure an open internet

On Tuesday FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled a sweeping plan to roll back Obama-era rules intended to ensure an open internet.

“The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services,” reports NYT.

What does this mean for consumers, for you and me?

The new rules will clear the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites.

In addition, it will open the door to internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge tech companies to send content to their consumers more quickly. Netflix for instance might be forced to agree to pay a premium so its customers can stream movies more reliably, a cost a start-up competitor might not be able to afford.

This has already happened.

In 2014 Netflix, as reported by The Verge, was forced into a deal with cable giant Comcast in order to ensure more direct video-streaming service route through Comcast’s network, which would improve streaming video quality for viewers. That agreement only materialized after Netflix speeds plummet on the network, as reflected in the service’s monthly ISP rankings.

Bringing together activists and big corporate players

Net neutrality is such a big issue that it has spawned unlikely bedfellows, bringing together activists and big corporate players like Google, Netflix Amazon on the same side.

On August 30 this year, the last day of comments on the new FCC proposals, Internet Association, which comprises some of the world’s biggest internet companies and activist groups filed its reply comments to FCC highlighting the overwhelming support for the 2015 Open Internet Order.

This week, the Internet Association issued the following statement on the announcement of Mr. Pai’s plan to gut net neutrality protections:

“Chairman Pai’s proposal, if implemented, represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans who support the 2015 Open Internet Order. This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet.”

20 million public comments

According to the NYT, the Internet Association has received in the region of 20 million public comments, many of them in opposition of changing the rules.

This is Mr. Pai’s point as reported by the NYT:

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

Sounds simple and innocent enough, but many are not buying it. Fact is, the new regulations will allow broadband providers to block access, slow down or speed up services for its business partners in some cases, as long as they notify customers, notes the NYT.

Boosting investment and innovation?

The cable companies see the situation differently. They see it as a boost to investment and innovation. It’s interesting to note that the FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is a former Verizon lawyer.

If you want your email to your mother, your loan application or bank transfer, your online airline ticket payment or a streamed episode of your favorite Netlix movie to continue seamlessly, you’ll understand the importance of net neutrality.

It’s not simply a slugfest between corporate giants; it’s a fight about your daily life online.


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