In all its chaos and complexities, we love the open and free internet. And it’s safe to assume most people feel the same.
But internet freedom is once again being called into question. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has unveiled its plans to repeal net neutrality. FCC chairman Ajit Pai (chosen by President Donald Trump), claims net neutrality’s “days are numbered,” as he aims to undo the net neutrality rules approved two years ago under Barack Obama. The decision will come to a vote at an FCC meeting December 14th.
What will happen if these rules are passed? The internet as we know it will drastically change.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page: Net neutrality is the principle that all internet users should have equal access to all content and applications. It ensures internet service providers (ISPs) can’t block or favour websites. And it’s really important.
The regulation passed in 2015 prevented ISPs like AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from determining what websites and online services their customers can access and use. Net neutrality prevents ISPs from blocking or slowing traffic for certain sites, and from charging companies for faster delivery of their content.
1. Startup Companies Will Struggle
Without net neutrality, the internet would no longer be a level playing field. Net neutrality ensures all data is treated equally, which is how startups can supplant established brands.
With the new rules in place, however, ISPs could charge tech companies to send content to consumers more quickly. Big companies could buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the dust. When smaller companies can’t pay for access to the fast lane, consumers will have a harder time accessing their sites.
Bigger companies could thus undermine startups before they can even take off. For example, Netflix might have to pay to ensure its customers could stream TV shows and movies reliably. But it’s unlikely that a startup competitor would be able to afford this cost.
2. Internet Marketing Could Be Destroyed
Today, anyone can register a website, host it, and attract customers.
Net neutrality encourages competition, thus creating a high demand for online services like SEO and digital marketing. Smaller companies need help to compete with bigger, established websites, so they turn to digital marketers.
But since non-neutrality would destroy the competition, top websites would dominate the online space. Digital marketers would be unable to promote their clients’ websites. The internet would no longer be a space of equal opportunity and profitability. Rather, it’d be restrictive and inaccessible.
3. The Death of Blockchain
Cryptocurrency and bitcoin technologies rely on the free internet for transactions without any central control. With net neutrality, all internet traffic—including blockchain transactions—are treated the same. But if bitcoin technologies are slowed or blocked, it’ll have a huge impact on the growth and speed of this technology, hindering innovation.
An open internet is truly the backbone of this decentralized technology. Without net neutrality, startups in the cryptocurrency space would also face higher costs and struggle to keep up with the competition.
4. Restricted Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) largely impacts the way we work and live. And net neutrality ensures you can use whatever devices your heart desires. Without net neutrality, however, ISPs could make traffic flow faster to one brand of phone or computer, and slower to another.
Comcast is already creating its own smart home platform, meaning it would have motivation to create fast and slow lanes for certain devices and services. The end of net neutrality would mean the end of innovation and freedom in the IoT space.
5. Goodbye Internet Freedom
With non-neutrality, all users would have restricted access to the internet, as ISPs could pick what parts of the web you have access to based on how much you pay.
For example, ISPs might charge a minimum amount for access to major sites and applications like Google or YouTube and then charge more to access second-tier websites, and even more to access everything on the internet.
The effects of non-neutrality are far-reaching, impacting everything from a user’s day-to-day experience to digital advertising. Activists, as well as dozens of major companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, are fighting for net neutrality. Though the situation seems grim if the rules get passed, the courts could refuse the FCC’s order, and Congress could also pass new net neutrality laws.