Net Neutrality is back on everybody’s newsfeeds thanks to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) releasing the drafts of its plans to eliminate the country’s net neutrality rules.
If you’re not an American citizen getting your cable from Comcast, you might think that changes to net neutrality in the US won’t affect you. After all, how could laws made for American internet service providers (ISPs) affect people who don’t live in America?
Aside from the simple fact that much of the world looks towards America for an example of egalitarian values in action, there are serious concerns about the kind of anticompetitive practices which changes to current net neutrality laws could bring about, to say nothing of the ethically questionable ones.
Net neutrality’s most important principle is the idea that ISPs should give consumers access to all content and applications on an equal basis, providing that content is legal. What this means is that ISPs face legal consequences for favouring certain sites or applications over others, or blocking content that doesn’t break any laws.
Many experts across a variety of industries have claimed that getting rid of net neutrality in the USA effectively hands control over to ISPs, allowing them to price and manipulate access however they like. But the internet is a global service, and changes which affect the American market are bound to have some sort of trickle down effect on the international market as well. Making net neutrality a significant issue for people living outside of American borders.
Those adverts for that teeth whitening kit you considered buying online, the ones that keep popping up on your Facebook, Instagram and even news websites, they’re a form of marketing known as behavioural targeting, and Google and Facebook have been using it for almost a decade. Without net neutrality laws, your ISPs can also start engaging in storing and selling your data to companies. The sheer amount of data an ISP can see compared with external companies makes this a scary concept for consumers.
Current net neutrality laws make this proliferation of content across different sites easy, ISP’s are not allowed to control the access or visibility of content on the web. By eliminating these regulations ISPs can continue charging consumers for access to the internet, and at the same time charge institutions and businesses for access to customers. What this means is that websites from a company who can’t afford to pay an ISP for priority access will load slower than a site run by a business who can bear that additional financial burden.
The problem with this is that consumers expect websites and services to load quickly, and without interruption. Those businesses unable to pay will find it difficult to maintain and grow an audience, losing out on ad revenue and market reach. A scenario like this stifles competition, and has a knock-on effect for advertisers too, as the supply of digital content and advertising is reduced, even if demand for the product or service is high.
If the web suddenly became “pay-for-performance” it means ISPs would determine the visibility of content, which could make getting the right advertisement in front of the right consumer not only more difficult, but more expensive too. That expense is going to get passed on to consumers. No matter where in the world they’re living.
It isn’t just the costs of advertising that are going to increase for companies either. Take the current streaming market as another example. Services like Netflix and Amazon could be forced to pay additional fees to have their streaming services included the “bundles” provided by US cable companies. Consumers, will bear this additional cost, through an increase in subscription fees, regardless of whether they’re streaming from Idaho or London.
Gamers will find themselves hit too. Thanks to the rise of digital games it’s become increasingly common for people to buy non-physical copies. Digital platforms like Steam, and the Xbox Store or PlayStation Network have made buying and storing games convenient. But the size of the average PC game is around 8GB, not exactly a small download. Without net neutrality in place, ISPs have the option to charge Sony, Valve of Microsoft extra, limiting their uploads and throttling their downloads. And the way business works, this is just another potential cost the consumer will end up paying for.
Not to mention the impacts that it could have on people who make their living online. YouTubers, Twitch Streamers and other creative artists who rely on a free and open internet.
The effects of the end of net neutrality go well beyond the average internet user’s day-to-day experience. There are grim predictions about how it will affect every industry from creative arts to digital advertising, and the broader economic implications aren’t particularly rosy either. The Internet is an open platform that should be viewable and usable by everyone with no kind of prejudice. By handing over control of that platform to companies, we’re taking our first step down a slippery slope into an Orwellian nightmare.