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Politics & Current Affairs

How the end of net neutrality could change your experience of the internet

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced a proposal to repeal net neutrality regulations set forth by the Obama administration in 2015.
The end of net neutrality could lead to faster internet speeds for some customers, slower speeds for others. (Shutterstock)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced a proposal to repeal net neutrality regulationsset forth by the Obama administration in 2015. If passed, it will fundamentally change how Americans access the internet, and we are here to explain how.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a principle (often enshrined in legal regulations) that holds that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data sources equally, forbidding them from discriminating by user, source, or content. This means that all data can be accessed at the same speed as all other data, and websites cannot be blocked by ISPs. For you, this means that all websites you want to see are treated the same by your internet connection, and you can access them all equally easily.

Okay, so what is the current situation?

Chairman Pai,who voted against the implementation of net neutrality two years ago, said at the time that “The Internet is not broken,” and “There is no problem to solve,” seeing the regulations as unneeded and excessive. His attitude that the regulations would unduly burden companies, deter investment, and stifle innovation under red tape never wavered. Today he stated that “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet”.

The supporters of ending the regulations say that they provide little benefit at excessive cost. That the end of net neutrality will lead to new investment in infrastructure and new models of providing internet services. They point out how some websites take up more bandwidth than others and treating the data differently could improve efficiency overall, with large data sources footing part of the bill for the bandwidth capacity they use. 

Supporters of net neutrality point out that a lack of regulations lead to the very sort of internet slowdowns they fear will happen again, pointing out how Comcast throttled Netflix services until Netflix agreed to pay for faster speeds. They also fear the creation of a two-lane internet, a fast lane for companies that agree to pay to use it, and a slow lane for everyone else. They point out the worst-case scenario where some websites are blocked by ISPs for political reasons, as being a legal possibility. They point to the principle that ISPs should have no say in how a customer uses their access to the internet.

What does the proposal say about all that?

While ISP’s would be able to charge content providers for preferential treatment, and potentially even slow down or block access to some sites, the proposal includes a clause that would require them to be transparent in how they treat particular sources for data, allowing customers to know how their data is being handled on route to them, and if they will be able to access the parts of the internet they want to at the same speed as the rest of it.

What will this mean for me if net neutrality ends?

It depends on a lot of factors, but if you are a consumer you may see changes in the maximum speed of certain websites. Some services, like Netflix, may end up raising prices to assure access to all of their customers. The Wall Street Journal has suggested that ISPs will be freer to offer low cost channel bundles at high speeds, potentially saving money for some customers while providing them faster service.

There you have it, the debate on the repeal of net neutrality will continue until December 14th, 2017. Until that time, the 2015 regulations will continue to be in use. There is the possibility (seen as low) that the new proposal will be rejected and net neutrality in the United States will continue. 


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