Net neutrality has been all over the news lately and for good reason.
The latest FCC order released by the office of Chairman Ajit Pai, a draft of which was released on November 21st, repeals the rules of net neutrality put in place in 2015 under President Obama. This essentially means that the internet service providers will now be able to prioritize certain services which are willing to pay a price to the ISPs for the same.
In order to understand the exact repercussions of this order, lets delve deeper.
When the rules of net neutrality were passed in 2015, they acknowledged the importance of open internet in the American economy and emphasized the dire need to keep it open as mentioned in this paragraph taken from that order.
The open internet drives the American economy and serves, every day, as a critical tool for America’s citizens to conduct commerce, communicate, educate, entertain, and engage in the world around them. The benefits of an open Internet are undisputed. But it must remain open: open for commerce, innovation, and speech; open for consumers and for the innovation created by applications developers and content companies; and open for expansion and investment by America’s broadband providers. For over a decade, the Commission has been committed to protecting and promoting an open Internet.
The order also acknowledged that the ISPs had both the incentive and the ability to act as gatekeepers between content providers and consumers. Thus, ISPs could extract money from big content/service providers to prioritize them over their smaller counterparts, which is why the ISPs have been pushing very hard for a long time. The ISPs argue that they can use the extra revenue generated through this to take better services to those who are presently devoid of them. This could also mean that the content being consumed would be as per the will or wish of the gatekeeper rather than the consumer which would interfere with a very fundamental requirement. An analogy to this is that you can only watch HBO in movies category on your TV because HBO has paid your cable provider a good sum to prioritize it and block its competitors.
To deal with this, the 2015 order had what were called Clear, Bright line rules which put a ban on blocking, throttling, or prioritization by categorizing ISPs in Title II. This meant that ISPs were considered in the same category as landline phone service providers or electricity distribution companies. This also meant that ISPs had to treat all internet traffic equally. President Obama was particularly insistent on this when he sent out a video message in 2014 saying “There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access, there are no toll roads on the information superhighway.”
The latest order by the FCC puts ISPs under Title I, information services carriers. Various pros and cons can be explored here.
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SO WHAT NEXT..?
The most immediate implication for the general public would be that they might experience different site loading or buffering speeds than before. Although even this would take months to materialize. After this order, ISPs would eagerly be waiting to start talks with service providers such as Netflix, Youtube, Uber, etc. to introduce another revenue stream for themselves.
Since there is now an added cost on the service providers, they might just decide to pass some of it on to consumers. This would result in higher monthly subscription amounts.
The ISPs might also get innovative on the customer side and introduce packages by clubbing similar or different services.
The extra revenue generated for the ISPs should result in better services in areas that were earlier not covered extensively.
But the implication that concerns everyone the most might be that the content startups will struggle to get off the ground because established players will fund ISPs heavily to keep them immune to these developments.
We can be quite certain that this is not the final verdict on this issue as history suggests. There will be many cases and courtroom battles still. Lets us hope that all the major concerns are addressed before pen is put to paper.