Going by the most basic definition, net neutrality is the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally by service providers. On one side, proponents of net neutrality argue that the regulations prevent ISPs from playing favorites — throttling or outright blocking certain data, while giving priority and speed boosts to firms that have paid for quicker access. On the other hand, critics of the regulations say that they ultimately snarl innovation and investment.
The battle lines are pretty clear-cut, too. Democrats, consumer advocacy groups, and tech giants like Facebook and Google often argue in favor of net neutrality rules — stating that equal access to data helps to democratize the internet. Republicans and internet service providers, on the other hand, argue against net neutrality, citing the fact that some services — such as video streaming platforms — clog their infrastructure with the sheer amount of data they use. If ISPs could charge data-hogs more, they contend, then they’d be able to invest in better infrastructure, like high-speed fiber networks. Of course, the latter argument is the one that Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai cited in favor of rolling back those regulations.
Increase of Zero-Rated Services
One of the most direct effects consumers may see as a result of net neutrality regulations being dismantled is an increase in the number of “zero-rated services” — that is, access to unlimited content like video streaming that doesn’t use up any monthly data. Because of that, tech columnist Christopher Mims writes in the Wall Street Journal, many consumers will love the end of net neutrality — but only at first.
The end of net neutrality could be the start of prioritized access — which could ultimately stifle competition in the content creation industry. It works like this: big corporations can afford to pay ISPs to give faster access to their content. Smaller companies with shallower pockets, such as startups, won’t have the funds to pay for faster access, meaning that their content could be throttled or load at slower speeds. No one likes video buffering or content that loads slowly.
According to media executive Sergey Denisenko, this could result in a domino effect: small businesses lose their audience, then lose their advertisers, and finally lose the funding necessary to create new content.
If the smaller companies lose their ability to fairly compete, then there could be a monopolization effect in which we really will only see content created by one or two larger corporations. There’s a reason why social media companies like Snapchat are worried about the end of net neutrality, and what it could mean for their long-term prospects. But this all may be a worst-case scenario. Indeed, the idea that all data should be treated equally has always been a core principle of the internet — and even opponents of net neutrality think we should keep some provisions of those regulations around. In the wake of the FCC’s decision, ISPs and cable companies have pledged to continue providing “an open internet experience,” according to Bloomberg.
While the FCC made its vote today, the rules aren’t being adopted right away — instead, the proposal is now open to public comments. And if history is a judge, millions of people are likely to voice their arguments in keeping the net neutral. In addition to that, like other attempts to gut or set net neutrality rules, any final regulations are likely to end up being challenged in court, NPR reported.