The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) is expected to vote on whether internet service providers can prioritize certain websites and web content over others. Treating all websites and web content the same is known as net neutrality, and defenders of the principle worry that December 14th’s FCC vote could roll back regulations that had acted as a bulwark in the past.
The argument from Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, is that transcending net neutrality will spur economic growth and innovation. The counterargument is that gutting the current rules will result in internet service providers like Comcast acting more like cable television companies in the future. In practice, Comcast might charge more for streaming services like NetFlix and YouTube (these services tend to take up a lot of bandwidth).
One concern heading into the FCC vote is that rescinding net neutrality could result in even more opacity from internet service provider’s pricing schemes. Historically, the internet was meant to be a public utility and, indeed, the technology that underlies the internet came from government funding and DARPA.
Instead of acting as a public utility, though, the table is set ahead of December 14th’s vote for internet service providers to heavily monetize “bundled” services. In Portugal and other countries where net neutrality never really got a foothold, bundled services are the norm.
This means that customers wanting to access YouTube might find themselves blocked out if they haven’t already purchased a bundle with that option. In countries where net neutrality never caught on, some websites are also much slower than others and companies are frequently asked to pay the internet service provider directly for speedier or more reliable performance.
There’s also a fear that allowing tech companies like AT&T and Time Warner to merge after net neutrality is rescinded could result in the kinds of “vertical monopolies” that trust buster Teddy Roosevelt railed against. The fear is that by owning every point in a supply chain from content creation to distribution to actually providing internet service to customers (a vertical monopoly), companies will engage in unprecedented price gouging at the expense of customers.
Another concern ahead of Thursday’s vote is that repealing net neutrality will harm innovation and smaller businesses. Only the biggest companies, skeptics worry, will be able to afford the exorbitant rates to keep their websites running quickly and efficiently. Some have called this the “internet for the elite.”