By now, it should be no secret that the web is abuzz about Ajit Pai’s plan to neutralize net neutrality. The commotion has raised heated inquiry into the ethics of our government’s many branches (specifically the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]) as much as the true importance of the net neutrality laws currently entrenched into our everyday lives. Everything we do here in the U.S. that depends on internet — from Googling simple ideas to using GPS on your smartphone, accessing public web forums, online gaming and more — might be looking at the end of the line in the with this new proposal, and the masses are not happy about it.
Amidst the dust and echoes, the question receiving the greatest emphasis is: “What exactly is net neutrality?” Right behind it are the ancillary inquiries into why it’s important and if it needs to be changed. In typical government fashion, it’s thought that this whole situation was designed to draw attention away from the authentic questions, strawmanning them with proposals like, “Net neutrality is great, but it could use a change!” This is simply not true — what’s already in play is effective on its lonesome.
For those not yet in the know, net neutrality is the concept that any ISP — landline or phone carrier — should not be allowed to limit clients’ access to specific, lawful web services and sites. This means that the entirety of the web, barring illegal sites of course, receives an equal share of the bandwidth that a client pays for. If you’ve purchased a 30Mbps connection, every site you attend and service you utilize will benefit from that all the same.
This is currently how things work. It’s because of net neutrality that you’re able to read this article without paying a fee.
While eliminating net neutrality doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad has to happen to the customer, it almost certainly will because of how capitalism works. We’ve seen what happened with the video gaming industry and the introduction of microtransactions and lootboxes, and that’s exactly what may happen with U.S. citizens’ internet if Pai manages to repeal the current laws that keep things fair. Subscription packages could surface for groups of websites and apps in much the same way we currently subscribe to certain channels on TV, and the base rate that you pay for your internet could get you nothing without those subscriptions on top.
You can speed up browsing with Chrome with a few tips, but it doesn’t make as big of a difference as your internet itself. The other way this can go is, you’ll get something in line with 256k bandwidth (or some other pitiful bit rate) for most of the internet, and the only way to get reasonable speeds with any particular service (think Facebook or YouTube) is to pay for a “social media package” or “video streaming package” every month. It could become very fine-grained, instead requiring subscriptions to the specific services themselves — imagine paying $5.99 to use Google every month. But since Verizon does own Yahoo!, it would mean that their clients would have to pay just to perform Google searches, access Drive and more. (Sorry, Android-users.)
Many have speculated that big ISPs and carriers, such as Verizon and Comcast, lobbied out the FCC to push this on the masses with the insistence that “government is bad” and “regulations aren’t necessary”, appealing to the resist-authority line of thinking that many have. The FCC has made it clear that the public vote is no longer relevant to the decision that will be made December 14th concerning the matter, but the protesting is intensifying in defense of an open and free internet. Clearly, we’re not going to settle.
The bottom line is this: If net neutrality is repealed, a lot of people may wind up without internet anymore in the near future. There’s no telling exactly what will happen, but web-dependent jobs (such as my own, being a writer) may be lost, the online gaming industry may suffer deeply, and people may no longer be able to use social media to its fullest extent. More necessary functions, such as online banking and acquiring online title loans no credit check, may also become inaccessible to many. What will people do if they can’t fill out online applications anymore?
Everyone should keep a few things in mind, though: The repeal may not pass, and if it does, things may not turn out so ugly in the end. Still, people are encouraged to question if the possibilities are in line with what they really want going forward. Do you want your ISP to become the gatekeeper to your internet access?