If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard a lot of discourse on the topic, including talks that the Trump administration is strongly considering a repeal of Obama-era net neutrality regulations. But what does that all really mean for consumers anyhow? Let’s start with the basics.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality describes the Open Internet Order which is a set of policies put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Obama administration in 2015 that requires all legal data on the internet to be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs). The reason these regulations were put into place was because ISPs were accused of discriminating against certain types of data and/or specific websites by manipulating speed and accessibility. According to NPR, before net neutrality regulations, internet service providers could block or slow down traffic and charge companies extra to route their traffic at a faster rate.
The Pros & Cons of Net Neutrality
Those in favor of net neutrality argue that if these provisions and regulations are removed, it is likely that ISPs will charge content providers, such as Netflix and Hulu, extra money to ensure that customers have a fast enough connection to stream internet or risk having slower connections that aren’t reliable for streaming. This will likely mean that content providers will be consolidated, as the smaller companies won’t have the capitol to pay top dollar to ISPs, and that means less choice for consumers. Additionally, if content providers are forced to pay for bandwidth, you can be sure that they’ll pass those costs onto you, the consumer. Furthermore, because many ISPs are part of larger telecommunications companies that also provide cable, the fear is that ISPs will intentionally degrade streaming quality from content providers such as Netflix to encourage consumers to purchase cable television packages instead, making it increasingly difficult for you to cut the proverbial cord.
On the flip side, if there aren’t regulations, this would give mobile broadband and wired internet providers the freedom to partner with specific content providers and give preferred access to certain content – possibly even allowing wireless customers to access partner content without having to dip into their monthly data allotment.
An additional consideration when debating the merits of net neutrality is its potential impact on business. On the one hand, those in favor of repealing net neutrality regulations suggest that an unregulated marketplace would force ISPs to remain innovative. Gene Marks, New York Times writer and Forbes contributor, asserts that “not all services should be created equal, mainly because if they are, ISPs will no longer have an incentive to continue to push toward innovation, such as improving infrastructure and bandwidth. Without these strives for improvement, ISPs can begin to fall stagnant.”
However, a lack of net neutrality could also hurt small businesses, especially those that provide content, and will likely slow innovation from start-ups, as they won’t have the funding to pay for priority connections through the ISPs. Many in the tech industry worry that this gives ISPs the power to pick winners and losers, rather than allowing consumers and the market to support the best innovations.
So what do you think? Are you in favor of or against net neutrality regulations being repealed?