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Why Does Net Neutrality Matter?

Net Neutrality

The US Federal Communications Federation (FCC) has proposed a vote to repeal the net neutrality guidelines on December 14 of this year. The FFC is a government agency overseen by Congress that regulates communications throughout the US by television, radio, satellite and wire. The agency, headed by Ajit Pai who issued the proposal, has just five commissioners who will be voting—three of which are set to approve the repeal.

What is net neutrality?

The landmark guidelines by the Obama administration back in 2015 were put in place to ensure that internet users can read, watch and play whatever they choose online without hindrances or restrictions by internet service providers (ISPs).

ISPs including mobile giants AT&T and Verizon are hugely opposed to the restrictions set out by the net neutrality law. They have argued that the regulations stifle innovation in the current competitive consumer environment.  

Why this could be bad news for you

ISPs could slow traffic and connection to websites of their choice—such as Netflix—that compete with their own personal-brand services. Further, unregulated ISPs may charge extra to consumers who wish to visit certain websites. This means that they could technically control what consumers can or cannot access on the internet.

Weak laws on net neutrality can already be observed in Europe. Portuguese mobile carrier MEO offers a variety of data packages to its customers—all of which divides internet usage. For €4.99, users can get 10GB exclusive data for Netflix, Periscope, Twitch and YouTube. Another package allows usage rights to messaging apps like WhatsApp and FaceTime for a fee, too.

The current regulations give all, including start-ups and billion-dollar companies alike, equal access to the internet. Consumerreports.org has said that a successful repeal by the FCC may mean that “your service provider could block or slow down some websites and give special treatment to others. That would limit your choices, hurt competition, and cost you more money.” So if you are a start-up or a blogger just beginning your career, this could affect not just your visibility, but your business and your message.

The news was received well by ISPs including AT&T, who, back in 2007-2009, blocked the use of Skype to their users to limit competition with their own services.

Gutting the current rules may also mean that ISPs would not be required to disclose cases of extra fees and data limits; ultimately catching the consumer out with nasty surprises. 

Who’s saying what

Major companies including Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft have opposed the proposal. Taking to Twitter, Netflix, which may face fees from ISPs if the proposal is passed, said “Netflix supports strong #NetNeutrality. We oppose the FCC’s proposal to roll back these core protections.”

Mignon Clyburn, one of the FCC commissioners who disagrees with the plan to gut net neutrality, said, “It eliminates all prohibitions against blocking and throttling applications by broadband providers, and enables them to engage in paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination at the point of interconnection.” She continued, “It ignores thousands of consumer complaints and millions of individual comments that ask the FCC to save net neutrality and uphold the principles that all traffic should be created equal.”

In favor of the proposal, Joan Marsh, a vice president at AT&T claimed that the “action will return broadband in the US to a regulatory regime that emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention.”

The American public have gathered in droves on the internet imploring others to act before it’s too late. If you want to join in the fight to protect net neutrality, organisations such as battleforthenet.com suggest writing to Congress or protesting.

Further reading: Do Millennials Trust Trump with Gun Control?

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