By Brian Garvey ’20
On Sunday December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the internet is same and equal, and therefore no internet service providers, such as Comcast or Verizon, may charge by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. Net neutrality was established in 2015 under the Obama administration, and has been vehemently opposed by the massive internet companies within the U.S.
The leading force for the repeal of net neutrality was Republican Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the FCC. Appointed to the FCC board by President Barack Obama in 2014, Pai became the first Indian American to become the chairman when President Donald Trump designated him to the position. A University of Chicago Law graduate and former lawyer for Verizon, Ajit Pai has always been very outspoken against net neutrality, and has been strident in stating his belief in the benefits of the repeal of net neutrality.
General reaction and public opinion about the repeal has been very negative, with social media exploding against the dismantling of net neutrality. One of the most contentious aspects of the repeal of Net Neutrality is what is actually going to happen; no one seems to be sure of what will happen until it actually happens.
There are four scenarios that have been deemed possible:
The first, and most unfavorable, scenario is that service companies will be able to control every aspect of the internet. Competing company sites will be blocked, and consumers will not be able to access services, such as Netflix or Facebook, that use a different service provider.
Yet many experts say that in this scenario, the market and competition would keep the internet essentially the same, as an internet service policy with significantly fewer regulations would outperform the strictly regulated company, thus forcing the regulated company to change their policies.
The second, and most positive, scenario, is that consumers will actually have a lower internet bill and higher internet speed. Because of the repeal, internet companies will also be able charge companies that, under net neutrality, were able to use massive amounts of data for free. This would directly affect Netflix, and is the reason why Netflix has been so outspoken against the repeal.
Because companies who use large amounts of data will be charged more for their usage, the service companies will look for opportunities to increase their income. The additional income can be used to improve the network and infrastructure which therefore would increase the speed of the internet while simultaneously lowering the consumer’s bill.
But this relies on these internet companies lowering the bill on their own, and that is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Furthermore, a company like Netflix might increase their prices due to the fact that they will pay more for internet access.
The third scenario is that web services are like tiered packages. If a consumer wants to access services like Netflix, they have to pay for the package, similar to HBO. Essentially, it will increase the price of services consumers previously had access to.
The final scenario, and seemingly most likely, is that nothing will really change. The idea is that companies will not provide fastlanes for paying companies and restrict web services out of fear of consumer backlash, as well as the distinct possibility of the rules changing; Net Neutrality was only in place for two years, and Ajit Pai has been shown just how quickly the rules can be changed.
Essentially, there is a broad range of scenarios, ranging from complete restriction to unlimited data for lower prices, but the general consensus from educated experts is that the actual outcome will be somewhere in the middle; whether that will be worse or better than the internet during net neutrality cannot be determined until the actual changes become apparent.