Thursday December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to end Net Neutrality, the regulation which ensured equal access to websites and services by internet services providers (ISPs). The repeal has left many business owners and American consumers questioning “what does this mean for me?”
Some speculate that service providers will impose higher prices on tiered access to highly trafficked websites like YouTube, Facebook and Amazon. Will service providers give preferential treatment to websites and services that it has affiliations or interest in? Will they slow access to sites they don’t like or charge fees for “fast lane” access?
While experts say that change is unlikely to happen quickly, all of the above changes are now possible with the repeal of Net Neutrality. ISPs may start offering service packages that provide access to certain websites like higher prices for access to social media and eCommerce sites. However, many ISPs have vowed that they do not intend to make such changes. Whether this remains true long-term as competition increases remains to be seen. What is probably more likely to happen are small changes to the way ISPs provide access to websites and services over a long period of time.
My guess, we will see a slow regression of what we have come to know of free access to the World Wide Web. Slowly but surely, popular social and commerce websites will be part of exclusive First-Class and Business ISP packages, add-ons will be normal, and standard internet will consist of peanuts for websites. If this sounds like a reference to airlines, it is. Compare now what we have come to know as normal in air-transit. Strict lines, baggage fees, high priced fairs for preferred seating, and à la carte movies, drinks, snacks, black-out dates and so-so customer service. A far cry from the once all-inclusive luxury experience of flying the friendly skies. But we go used to it. And given time, paying for premium access to our favorite websites will be normal too.
So what can you expect to see or hear going forward? My guess, ISPs will start charging Big Box names like Yelp and Amazon monthly or annual fees in exchange for preferential reach to web surfers. Those that cannot pay the likely exuberant fees will be shunned to the “slow lane” internet package which will likely be as reliable as airplane wifi. This means companies who can afford to pay the fees would have preferred carriage – a wider access to prospective customers / subscribers and the smaller guys that do not have the resources to afford the fees lose. A real crack in our free market….. not to mention a blow to an era of unprecedented innovation, social interaction and start-up ingenuity - much of which was been born and flourished online.
Under Thursday’s repeal, broadband providers could slow down site speeds for websites to persuade business deals. One day, you may notice Amazon or Ebay aren’t loading or your rainbow wheel keeps spinning when trying to browse Black Friday Lightening Deals – little do you know your Internet Service Provider is negotiating a $5,000,000 concession with the online retailer and is giving them a taste of life without the “fast lane”. And this would be perfectly kosher under the new rule approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
It’s still too early to tell how soon we will see changes if any. There is significant chatter about coming lawsuits challenging the rollback of net neutrality by public-interest groups, consortiums, as well as attorney generals including New York’s Eric Schneiderman, Washington state’s Bob Ferguson, and Masssachusett’s Maura Healey. Word of AGs from Oregon, Illinois and Iowa have also been noted with Schneiderman leading the multi-state effort. If the net neutrality repeal is not overturned, it will one day be starkly apparent how different the “new” internet is to the free and open framework that has governed the internet since its existence.