Net neutrality is dead
At least that’s the verdict of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which today struck down a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order from 2010 that forced Internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable to abide by the principles of network neutrality. These principles broadly stipulate that ISP network management must be transparent, and that ISPs can’t engage in practices that block, stifle or discriminate against (lawful) websites or traffic types on the Internet.
That’s the bare bones story, wrapped in ugly acronyms (FCC, ISP, etc.). But why should you care that network neutrality (“net neutrality”) may be gone for good?
1. No more net neutrality means ISPs can now discriminate against content they dislike.
Everyone gets their Internet from an Internet service provider — an ISP like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast or Time Warner Cable. Under net neutrality rules, these ISPs have to treat all content you access over the Internet “roughly the same way" — they can’t speed up traffic from websites they like or delay competitor’s traffic.
Now, with net neutrality gone, ISPs can discriminate, favoring their business partners while delaying or blocking websites they don’t like. Think your cable CEO hates free online porn? Now you’ll know for sure!
2. No more net neutrality means ISPs can now force websites to PAY for faster content delivery.
You know how some sites you go to just load slower than others? Usually, that’s just because the slower site is image heavy, poorly coded, or dealing with intense server load. But with net neutrality gone, ISPs can now start charging hefty fees to websites that want quick content delivery — shifting the long load times to poorer sites that can’t pay up.
Prefer indie retailers to Amazon.com? You may be in for a frustrating future.
3. Destroying net neutrality is bad for small businesses.
Put together items one and two and it becomes clear — negating net neutrality is bad for small businesses. If ISPs force website owners pay for faster load times, tiny retailers and personal websites will be the ones to suffer from slower content delivery.
Alternately — or additionally — ISPs will have no reason not to favor partner sites: Time Warner Cable, for instance, might favor the website of CNN (owned by the Time Warner Corporation) over the websites of competing cable news networks MSNBC and Fox News. Still, it’s the indies again that will lose out here. While Time Warner Cable might favor CNN and Comcast MSNBC, independent news networks almost certainly won’t get special treatment from any ISPs. Expand this out to music sites, web publishing, etc., and you begin to see the problem.
In extreme cases, ISPs may hinder or block content that isn’t produced by partners —much like AT&T did when it owned the telephone networks back in the day.
4. Without net neutrality, entire types of online traffic (like Netflix) may be in jeopardy.
Netflix watchers and BitTorrent users might want to beware — soon your beloved services may not work like they used to. Now that net neutrality’s down for the count, ISPs can discriminate against entire types of traffic: For instance, an ISP could slow or block all peer-to-peer file sharing, or all online video streaming.
Think it sounds unbelievably stupid for an ISP to stifle a certain traffic types indiscriminately? Comcast has seen reason to stifle both streaming video and peer-to-peer in the past.
From an ISP’s perspective, discriminating against some traffic types makes business sense: Many ISPs are also cable television providers, which means the “cord-cutting" enabled by peer-to-peer and streaming online video isn’t good for their bottom line.
5. Without net neutrality, your ISPs can make even more money without actually improving the Internet.
Right now, America’s broadband is slow. It’s slow because ISPs can already make gobs of money by charging the rich a ton for high-quality Internet while leaving the rest of America with subpar (or no) service.
Now, with net neutrality gone, ISPs will be able to make even more money off their existing customer base. They won’t need to improve service or bring broadband to rural areas because they’ll be able to keep growing (financially, at least) by charging content providers more for faster delivery and charging customers more for faster access. In all likelihood, Tuesday’s ruling means the problems with America’s Internet will be magnified.