Economy Kushay's Matter Bank

[AK] Net Neutrality 101 and Implications of its Repeal

This note will discuss net neutrality, an idea about equal access to Internet content.

What’s net neutrality, again?

Net neutrality is an idea about equal access to Internet content. Under its principles, Internet providers shouldn’t interfere with your ability to reach the websites, apps or services of your choice. If you’re a fan of Netflix, for example, net neutrality holds that you should be able to watch its shows without running into impediments your ISP, or Internet service provider, puts up that are designed to push you toward a competing service, such as Hulu.

Many supporters of net neutrality also interpret the concept to mean that broadband companies shouldn’t offer online companies “fast lanes,” or faster delivery to Internet users’ devices, particularly if it involves extra fees the websites must pay for the special treatment. That tactic, which experts call “paid prioritization,” runs the risk of creating an uneven playing field where big, dominant Internet companies can afford the fast lanes while start-ups or small businesses get left behind, net neutrality activists say.

Provisions implemented by FCC banned the blocking and slowing of Web content by Internet providers. A third rule banned the practice of paid prioritization, and a fourth provision, a “general conduct” standard, gave the FCC the ability to investigate broadband practices it believed could be problematic.

Why are the rules going away?

Last December, the FCC under Republican Chairman Ajit Pai voted to roll back the rules. Pai, who had been a commissioner when the rules were approved, is a longtime critic of the policy. He has argued that the regulations are too restrictive on businesses and discourage them from investing in network upgrades that could make your Internet service faster and better. Although the vote occurred months ago, it took time for the results to take effect. That’s why the rules are only expiring now.

What’s the impact of the repeal?

The end of the bans on blocking, slowing and paid prioritization means your Internet providers will be free to engage in that activity without legal repercussions, so long as they disclose it to the public on their own websites or to the FCC. The repeal effectively narrows what the federal government would consider a net neutrality violation. Under the old policy, any blocking or slowing of websites would directly run afoul of the rules, inviting immediate enforcement. Under the new policy, a violation might occur when regulators find out that an Internet provider has been blocking websites without saying so. The new approach hands much of the responsibility for enforcing violations to the Federal Trade Commission, a sister agency.

In its repeal decision, the FCC explicitly rejects the idea that it has much authority to regulate Internet providers at all. The blocking and slowing of websites gets much of the attention in the net neutrality debate. But what’s more likely to occur are subtle changes to your Internet experience that you may or may not notice. It’s hard to say what specific changes you might experience; part of the whole point of undoing the net neutrality rules is that Internet providers will begin to experiment with business models we haven’t seen before. One danger, according to consumer advocates, is that those new models could end up making it harder to discover innovative new services. Under this theory, you won’t know what you’re missing. But here are a few tactics that have been tried before that have drawn scrutiny under the old net neutrality rules.

Yes, finally! What’s an example?

One is the offering of discounts on Internet service in exchange for letting your broadband provider mine your browsing history and other personal information. Another might be getting unlimited wireless access to a mobile appĀ that your Internet provider owns, while usage of other apps continues to count against your monthly data cap

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