The end of the Internet…? It is what people are saying and something that is not 100% false but not 100% true. What is true is that today is simply a sad day, a day that most Americans do not fully understand the effect that it has on them and yet it affects every American, and unless you are an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Cox, Verizon or some of the many others, it affects you negatively.
Many want to say that it is simply Capitalism, but that is not accurate. It is the start of censoring, the start of limiting access, the removal of a person’s choice online and the start of increases in cost to access the same information you could access yesterday. This is not the first time that Net Neutrality has been brought up in our Congress, in fact, the last time was under Obama where it was protected. It was controversial then too, and many again did not understand the reason for it and the outcome, but let’s see if we can break it down simply!
Under the previous administration, the Net Neutrality debate was protected and was classified in a similar way as our telephone lines. The internet was classified as a public utility, much like water, gas, and electricity are protected and monitored the internet was protected from being throttled simply based on opinion. The reason for this was to prevent ISPs from taking advantage of this public utility and making sure that it treated all internet users the same, maintaining choice, and that there was not restrictions placed on some companies simply because they were in competition with an ISP, in another industry, or had a different viewpoint or political tilt.
A great example of this is AT&T. When FaceTime on the iPhone was release, AT&T felt threatened that now people could use their phones to make video call over the internet, and not over their phone plan minutes. With this as a concern, AT&T limited the ability of FaceTime to be used over their ISP networks, making sure that this technology, because they did own it nor profit from it, could not be used on their networks. They ultimately were stopped from doing this and had to resort full service to their network for all users because it was classified as a public utility, but this is no longer the case. AT&T now has the legal right to slow your internet now, prevent from working certain apps and functions of a phone that you have paid for, simply because that app or piece of functionality is in competition to them. AT&T can force a company like Apple to pay for a “fast lane” for their phones to work on, increasing the cost of ownership yet again.
Today, under the current administration, this protection that we have come to expect is no longer in place, the internet is no longer considered a public utility and therefore can be throttled, cut-off or price hiked simply because an ISP does not like another company or to increase their own revenues.
Now you might be asking, how does this affect me? Well look at this way. An ISP has the ability to look at a company like Netflix, who has considerable cash revenues and user base, and limit a person ability to access their site and stream their content. What that means is the ISP has 2 options. Either force Netflix to pay more for their content to be easily streamed by you and I, in turn increasing the cost of their platform overall and costing the consumer more money, or the ISP can come to us, the consumer directly and say, if you want to access Netflix, you have to pay an extra “X amount a month” (lets just say $4.99 as an example) in order to stream that content. This could be done for many sites including Hulu, ESPN, Disney, and many more, each with their own costs associated and drastically increasing the cost of the internet for the American people. Either way, this is going to cost us and begin to limit what we are able to access online, removing your ability to choose what you can see online, simply because some can afford it and some can not.
This stretches even wider. A company like Comcast, which owns stations like NBC, now has the ability for their sites and streaming services to be accessed at a lower cost than their competitors, simply because they, as and ISP, also own their own networks and broadcasting stations. News, politics, sports, entertainment, online commerce and many more industries are now affected by what they can pay in order to be seen. They are not only affected, but it will begin to sway public opinion and understanding of our world, simply because those networks that are attached to an ISP are able to promote their viewpoints louder and wider than those that are not. Those views and networks not attached to an ISP will either have to pay more to not be in a “Slow Lane” or their users will have to pay more to access the same information that they could yesterday, for cheaper. No longer is there equality online. The reality is that the messages that the ISPs want to push are the ones that will be most easily heard online. No longer will every point of view have the equal ability to be heard and no longer will freedom of speech be something acknowledged or supported online.
This loss, the loss of free speech online, is the single most detrimental effect that the repeal of Net Neutrality has on every single person in this nation.