Last week, I posted about the dangerous precedent set by Netflix by agreeing to pay Comcast for faster streaming speeds for its users. The FCC just gave a green light for this kind of agreement to be reached between any websites and broadband providers. While broadband providers aren’t allowed to block or slow any individual websites, by allowing some websites who can pay for it preferential treatment, other websites will slow down relative to websites who pay. While the FCC’s newest rule on Net Neutrality requires that they oversee every agreement to make sure the terms of the agreement are “commercially reasonable”, I am afraid that this is putting us on a dangerously slippery slope towards an internet that is heavily tilted towards benefiting companies whose ability to pay for such arrangements exceeds that of most other websites. While the clear winners here are broadband providers, this move can have massive effects, including stifling innovation when startups can’t pay for the same speed as other websites.
While websites are the ones paying the price of these rules, sooner or later, the broadband companies may be turning to internet users to pay based on how much they access the internet as well. Verizon’s CEO says that “you should pay more if you use the internet too much“. While currently this is not allowed under net neutrality rules, the FCC doesn’t have jurisdiction over mobile internet traffic. As I am sure many of you remember, Verizon and others used to have unlimited data plans for your smartphones. Recently those are beginning to turn into monthly limits on how many gigabytes of internet you are allowed to use. For those of us who don’t want an outrageous phone bill, this forces some changes to how you use the internet on your phone, including waiting until you are home and connected to your wireless network. If Verizon’s CEO had his way, the same types of data restrictions that are new to your phone may soon be coming to your home internet. While there are some points to be made justifying such a stance, the effect of such a move would put those who can’t afford to increase their monthly bill every time they browse the web into a disadvantage in countless ways. The internet is how students access information and job seekers access job postings.
My point is that net neutrality is headed towards the wrong direction and if the FCC, lawmakers, and the American people aren’t careful, some grim realities may become truths of how the internet is accessed, which will have a much larger impact on the bottom income earners.