Net Neutrality is a very polarizing topic. On one side are the telecommunication and internet service providers (ISPs) that want to best monetize their offerings. On the other side are consumers and online services that want the best online experience available. Unfortunately, these two desires sometimes conflict. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of explicit examples
- 2015: Comcast was caught throttling some streaming sports services because they competed against Comcast's own streaming sports offerings.
- 2013-2014: Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon all throttled Netflix access until Netflix agreed to pay the carriers. This paid premium for speed was called "fast-lane" access.
- 2011-2013: AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon blocked Google Wallet because it competed against their own payment system. (Isis the payment system, not ISIS the terrorist group, was later renamed to Softcard.)
- 2010: Windstream DSL hijacked user-search queries. Later, in 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found that several small ISPs were doing something similar.
- 2007-2009: AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VoIP services from iPhones.
- 2005-2007: Comcast blocked peer-to-peer BitTorrent and Gnutella applications. The FCC ruled this as illegal in 2008.
This list is nowhere near complete.
In each of these cases, the carrier did not stop until the FCC either opened an investigation or found the practice to be biased toward the carrier.
Basically, if the carrier is the only option for the user to connect to the Internet, then the carrier controls what the user can access. And if access is geared toward a competing online service or a competing advertiser, then the carrier has the technical ability to alter the data. They can force users to only see sponsored ads or only access services that the carrier prefers.
Prior to 2015, net neutrality was defined by a series of one-time findings by the FCC. It was not until 2013, when three major telecommunication providers (Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon) collaborated to throttle Netflix traffic that new regulations were created. In 2015, the FCC released new rules that forbid paid prioritization and reclassified ISPs as utilities. The ISPs did not like this action, but it did benefit consumers.
However in 2017, a new person was put in charge of the FCC: Ajit Pai. He explicitly stated that he would repeal regulations related to net neutrality. Prior to the repeal, over 98% of the feedback from the public was in support of the existing regulation. Even with this popular support, Pai explicitly said that he would ignore consumer feedback
and repeal all
regulations. Actions that the FCC found to be unfair or illegal a decade earlier would be repealed. Pai even stated that he thought these practices should be permitted -- creating an endorsement by the FCC for these monopolistic practices.
The large ISPs began preparing for the FCC to repeal net neutrality. For example, on April 26, 2017, the FCC's Ajit Pai announced his steps for repealing net neutrality. Within 24 hours, Comcast updated their committement statement for an open Internet, deleting their three-year-old pledge
to not have paid-prioritization. There is no real doubt that Comcast and other ISPs will re-introduce "fast-lane" access for certain online services.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted and repealed all net neutrality regulations. What this means for you:
- Streaming video services, like Hulu and Netflix, may need to pay each ISP so the content is not throttled slower. This will result in higher fees passed to consumers of these services.
- Search queries to services like Google and Bing may be hijacked by the ISP and sent to other search engines. You may not be able to access the search engine of your choosing.
- Online shops, like Amazon and Etsy, could be redirected by the ISP to other stores that the ISP favors.
- ISPs may choose to give preference to their own competing services. You may not be able to access some web sites if your ISP provides similar offerings.
- ISPs may begin to charge you based on the type of content you access or where that content is located. Of course, you may not know where some server is located, so you may be charged a premium without even knowing it.
All of this translates into higher prices and more network issues for consumers. Even if you don't initially see these increased costs and worse performance, it is virtually guaranteed to be coming.
What can you do?
A lot of people want to blame the ISPs for exploiting their monopolistic positions for their own financial benefits. However, at Neutral Charge, we don't blame the ISPs for using the regulations (or lack of regulations) as the FCC intended. Instead, we blame the FCC for permitting this monopolistic abuse. And since the FCC represents the US Government's position on net neutrality, we hold the entire US Government responsible. This issue could be resolved by the FCC, the US Courts, or the US Congress -- all parts of the United States Government. But until it is resolved, it is a problem of their own making.
So what can regular consumers do about this? Contact your congress members! Tell them you demand net neutrality.
For people who provide network services, like blogs and search engines, we suggest a different option...
Without net neutrality, services can restrict access just as well as ISPs.
At Neutral Charge, we provide a free list of network ranges associated with the US Government. Online services can use this list to check who is visiting their site. If a visitor comes from the US Government, then you can throttle, restrict, or alter contents. Perhaps you want to show them ads in order to pay for your additional expenses. Or maybe you want them to only use your non-free commercial services. This is all permitted without net neutrality.