February 19, 2014
In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Internet service providers (ISPs) couldn’t block or otherwise unreasonably discriminate against web content. A year later Verizon challenged the so-called net neutrality regulations as it believed they overstepped the commission’s authority. On Jan. 14, 2014, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Verizon and abolished the open Internet guidelines. The recent legal proceedings might concern Internet service providers and other online stakeholders, but they have very real implications for Internet users everywhere.
Internet Service Providers Could Control What We See
Rashad Robinson, the executive director of minority consumer group ColorOfChange.org, echoed the concerns of many when he said, “The Internet could very soon start looking like cable TV, where one corporation holds the power to decide which content we’re able to access.”
Net neutrality advocates argue that the ruling allows ISPs to essentially shape the Internet landscape by promoting the content they want us to see and hiding the information they don’t. It’s now within their rights to block access to any services or apps that compete with their own or their affiliated companies.
However, other tech experts remind us that just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s likely.
“People are really concerned about the concept of quality of service and ISPs blocking things,” affirmed Don Bowman, the chief technology officer of networking company Sandvine. “We think that the court of public opinion protects from that occurring.”
Internet Plans Could Become Cheaper
Now that ISPs aren’t required to treat all web content equally, they could potentially charge providers for the promotion of their content. This would create a new revenue stream for ISPs.
Of course, the ISPs could use this revenue to boost their own profit margins, but it’s likely that they’d also reduce the costs to consumers to gain a competitive edge. We could expect to see better Internet deals and free data plans.
Internet Pricing Could Become Fairer
Internet users currently pay a flat rate for their service, whether they simply use it for checking emails or performing more data-heavy tasks including streaming movies and television programs. Phil Swann, the president of TVPredictions.com, expects ISPs will move to a much fairer pricing structure which considers the activities of Internet users.
“Your Internet would not just be $30, $40 or $50 per month; it’s going to be so much per month depending on what services you get with that,” he told USA Today. “I think that’s where the ISPs will eventually go with this. It’s too good for them not to do that.”
Other Services Could Become More Expensive
If ISPs start charging companies for content promotion and premium speeds, it’s likely that those additional charges will be passed on to consumers.
It seems the world is already bracing itself for this actuality, as the stock price of Internet bandwidth hog Netflix nose-dived after the net neutrality ruling. If you use its entertainment streaming service, which accounts for a third of Internet traffic during peak usage periods, you might find the cost of your monthly subscription increasing.
Services that currently have a large number of free memberships, such as YouTube, might also scrap their existing models. These sites typically have premium paid subscription channels that they’re likely to push to offset their increased costs.
Small Companies Could Be Squeezed Out
Large, established companies will have the budgets to remain competitive in this new Internet landscape. However, it’s likely that smaller companies won’t be able to adapt to the changes so easily. Without the extra money to pay for premium services, they may find their websites hidden or running so slowly that they frustrate users.
Studies show that roughly half of all consumers expect a page will load in two seconds or less. If a site takes more than three seconds to load, 40 percent of customers will go elsewhere. If enough Internet users take their service elsewhere, small companies will inevitably fall by the wayside, and the Internet will become a far less diverse place.
As the dust settles from the Federal Court of Appeals ruling, Internet users will watch with interest to see the implications of the historic net neutrality decision.
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