The term “net neutrality” is an oft-discussed topic being thrown around with great frequency these days. Despite the prevalence of usage in the media, it remains shrouded in mystery as to what net neutrality actually means, and perhaps more importantly, how it will impact those who consider the internet to be as near and dear to their heart as a family member.
Although net neutrality is an America-centric issue – as dictated by the Federal Communications Commission – it has worldwide precedent with many other developing nations looking toward the United States as it relates to how to handle broadband issues in places where technology is still woefully behind parts of the West.
As it stands, net neutrality allows anyone and everyone with an internet connection to access the web on an unlimited basis and doesn’t allow carriers to dictate how much broadband is used or at which speeds sites are accessed.
Whether you only use the internet to check your email once a week, or binge-watch Netflix or Amazon on a daily basis, each person should be viewed the same.
But with the revised net neutrality plans – with the votes currently predicted at 3-2 to repeal current legislation – wireless providers could potentially block some sites or slow down data, and could even potentially slow down traffic to rivals.
In the latter example, should one broadband carrier prefer Amazon’s streaming platform over Netflix, they could charge Netflix – and ultimately its users – an added fee to receive the same speeds.
This is not a new issue. As former President Barack Obama explained in 2014: “No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee” – referring to the potential of broadband getting cozy with certain brands or intimidating huge conglomerates like Google into paying a vig to access the fast lane.
Portugal is already a country where net neutrality modifications have come to fruition. As detailed by its current plan, after paying an initial fee, a person has to then fork up an additional €4.99 per tier – with sections separated into likeminded services like messaging (Skype, WhatsApp), social (Facebook Instagram, Snapchat), video (YouTube, Netflix), music (Spotify), and email/cloud (Gmail, Google Drive).
If this sounds familiar, it mimics how cable television has been treated for the last several decades.
Even though there is a monetary precedent already set in Europe, an American carrier could potentially charge any rate that it wants – hypothetically setting up a scenario where the internet becomes an amenity instead of a basic necessity.
It also has a similar feel of a two-bit gangster looking to shake down local business owners for a “protection” fee just to be able to open their doors.
Needles to say, if the December 14 vote – spearheaded by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai – goes as planned, your daily routine could be dramatically impacted.
Under the preposed legislation, broadband carriers could slow down Netflix’s streaming capabilities – looking to draw added fees out of the streaming juggernaut as it tried to prevent a drop in playback quality. Since Netflix isn’t in the business of creating content simply to manifest goodwill with its subscription base, it would more than likely raise its rates to compensate.
Facebook currently boasts a staggering 1 billion active users. For context, there are 7.4 billion people in the entire word – of which 3.2 billion are active on the internet as a whole.
Thus, one-third of internet users could potentially create a new €5 billion (nearly $6 billion) revenue stream.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been a noted detractor of the FCC’s plan, saying in June of this year, “If a service provider can block you from seeing certain content or can make you pay extra for it, that hurts all of us and we should have rules against it. Right now, the FCC has rules in place to make sure the internet continues to be an open platform for everyone. At Facebook, we strongly support those rules.”
Given the popularity of Facebook, it’s hard to imagine that people would up and quit. However, it might force people to examine just how important it is when faced with being asked to pay for an endless stream of photos of other people’s babies and vacations.
Even though “gaming” isn’t a tier in the above Portugal plan, many in the video game industry are worried that they will meet a similar fate as those grouped into services not rendered by a flat fee.
Studio Wildcard (Ark series) co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz noted, “Anyone who cares about multiplayer online gaming should be up in arms about the imminent demise of net neutrality in the USA. It’s completely destructive to the idea of fair and level competitive gameplay to have throttled bandwidth depending on whether you are a small title or a part of a big commercial enterprise.”
There’s already a precedent of this occurring in the industry. A February lawsuit filed by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman alleged that Time Warner deliberately slowed speeds for customers who played League of Legends until Riot Games agreed to pay up.
The viral hit
One of the beauties of the internet is that thanks to its Old West qualities – where seemingly anything and everything goes – everyone has viral potential (whether Big Shaq or an 11-year-old rapper with fidget spinners).
As comedian W. Kamau Bell noted of net neutrality, it “ensure[s] that anyone who puts something on the internet has a fair shot at finding a life-changing audience.”
However, if a potential creative were to upload a piece of content to YouTube, their would-be audience could be potentially reduced by hundreds of millions due to the fact that people would have to consider if the site was something that was financially viable (YouTube currently has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users).
Suddenly, impulse clicks and shares amongst friends and strangers might not be as easy as simply hitting play.
The next BIG thing
Perhaps the most dire result of a repeal of current net neutrality laws involves something that isn’t even known to the general public yet.
As we’re all well aware, there are thousands of internet start-ups looking to make our lives easier and more enriching in a variety of different fields – whether through entertainment, music or travel.
Most established companies won’t have any problem paying fees to ISPs. It’s the companies who don’t have endless capital that will be impacted the most.
When Ajit Pai announced his intentions, more than 800 smaller companies banded together and provided a statement which read: “The success of America’s startup ecosystem depends on more than improved broadband speeds. We also depend on an open internet – including enforceable net neutrality rules that ensure big cable companies can’t discriminate against people like us. We’re deeply concerned with your intention to undo the existing legal framework.”
Had this repeal occurred when a company like Netflix was just starting, we may have been left in a world where romantic canoodling had to be initiated by dinner and drinks instead of by a shared interest in the fate of Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Will and Lucas.
Needless to say, December 14 stands to either become a day unlike any other, or one where we venture down a path where we must ration our money to pay the piper.
Main & Featured Image:
Loic Venace / Getty Images