On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Net Neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. After the decision was made the media quickly flooded with articles about Net Neutrality being dead and attempts at explaining what this would mean. We are not aiming to address the political angles, or any moral or immoral implications of this issue, because we believe there are more than enough sources for that information.
However, as a website hosting provider, we have been watching this issue closely and have received questions from our customers regarding what this repeal means. We’d like to do our best to outline the basics as neatly as possible for our customers.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the concept that all internet traffic has the same priority level. With Net Neutrality laws in place, nothing on the world wide web can be blocked, given priority, sped-up, slowed-down, or otherwise enhanced or inhibited.
What this means in the real world is that Jane can do anything or go anywhere she pleases on the Internet and her speed or access will not be restricted based on the content she is viewing/using. Her Internet provider can ask her to pay for their services based on data packages or speed levels, but cannot ask her to pay for their services based on the content she will be using/viewing.
What Does the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean?
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will no longer be required to offer equality for all Internet content. In theory, they will now be able to limit, restrict, throttle, or manipulate access to content at their discretion.
What this means in the real world is not so clear, as there are numerous ways in which this could proceed.
It is possible that there will be legal action that reverses this decision, although this could take a while. No lawsuit can be filed until the repeal goes into effect, and currently the new rules are waiting to be approved by The Office of Management and Budget. The New York Times discusses details of what those legal arguments may be and how the FCC may defend themselves.
The ISPs Have All The Power
Once the repeal of Net Neutrality goes into effect, the ISPs will have the power to do whatever they would like. Potential future scenarios include:
- The competition between ISPs will allow for open access, higher speeds, and lower prices. Meaning that if you live in an area that is serviced by more than one provider they will compete to have better access at a cheaper price and the customer will win. It sounds great, but in many rural areas in the U.S. there are no competing providers to allow for this type of environment. Furthermore, there is no way to ensure that the large media companies will act this way under the new rules.
- Pay to play for the customer. Many have speculated that we will have to pay for what we are doing on the Internet. If you like to stream video, you may be forced to pick a package for Internet access that includes streaming. Even more, if you want to be able to use social networks, you may need to pay your ISP in order to access them. This completely changes the way that “Internet access” is defined today.
- Pay to play for the provider. This is suggested often and means that providers like Netflix may be able to pay ISPs to speed up their services and throttle their competitors’ services. Meaning if you want to stream off of Hulu and your Internet provider is paid to speed up Netflix and slow down Hulu, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately it won’t just be Netflix and Hulu fighting for speed. Any start-up trying to offer services similar would have to be able to compete with Netflix and other media giants.
- Pay to play for both: the trickle-down theory. This is the idea that the large streaming media providers could pay ISPs to speed up their services and push upcoming competitors out the race. When this is done, they may also charge their customers (you) more money to use their services, in order to cover the cost of what they are paying the ISPs.
- Special speeds. The repeal of net neutrality allows for ISPs to gain business by offering special speeds for certain high-needs industries and items. Most often given as an example are potential special speeds for hospitals and other medical or emergency services that need a dedicated lane to provide high quality care in the modern world. This is something that was banned under the net neutrality rules and will be allowable now.
What Will The Future Hold?
At this point there is no clear answer for what the repeal of Net Neutrality will mean for the individual user, business owners, and streaming media providers. We will be keeping a close eye on the issue and will continue to address issues that may arise for our customers.