The Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission has decided to kill the net neutrality rules enacted under President Obama in 2015, despite widespread opposition from lawmakers and the public. It was a 3-2 vote (after a brief delay for security reasons) along party lines Thursday morning, and it will significantly change the way Americans use the internet.
Instead of forcing internet providers to abide by net neutrality rules — no throttling, limiting, or otherwise altering what consumers do on the internet — the telecoms will now abide by voluntary “principles,” which will be enforced in a limited capacity by the Federal Trade Commission. The new policy will become official in about a month and a half, at which point advocacy groups have already promised they will challenge the FCC in court.
The potential impact of repealing net neutrality is far-reaching. Every sector from trucking to healthcare is affected by the Thursday ruling, although it’s not totally clear how it will play out. Here are some ways killing net neutrality might affect American consumers more immediately.
Small video companies — not Netflix — will be hurt
The biggest internet content companies will likely be fine. Under the new net neutrality policy, telecoms can force content providers to pay up if they want their TV shows or movies to be in internet “fast lanes” or “zero-rated” — meaning they wouldn’t count against customers’ data caps.
Netflix, Facebook, and Google are multibillion-dollar behemoths who can pay whatever price the telecoms may want to charge them for making sure consumers can access their content. The people who might lose out, however, are smaller content companies and publishers who can’t afford to pay what Comcast or Verizon might demand.
Expect to see more “exclusive” content packages
Over the last few years, internet providers have started linking up with TV and movie studios or begun making their own. Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011, AT&T (which already merged with DirecTV) is attempting to buy Time Warner, and Verizon has invested serious money in its own mobile-focused Go90 service.
The new net neutrality principles will allow the telecoms to prioritize their own content more aggressively, offering it “exclusively” for their customers. This could also mean Comcast offers faster connections to view NBC content, or that AT&T throttles the speed of non-AT&T customers viewing Time Warner programming (should that merger go through) in 4K definition.
The possibility of European-style SIM-hopping
In many countries across the globe, net neutrality already doesn’t exist, which means people do a few different things to keep their cost of internet usage from going up.
In Guatemala and in much of the European Union, Slate points out, consumers have multiple SIM cards for their phones, which they use for different services; one for Facebook, one for WhatsApp, etc.
Morocco once even blocked digital services like Skype, in an attempt to prevent consumers from using them to replace traditional phone calls. But you don’t have to look that far too find similar examples — in a pre–net neutrality U.S., in 2012, AT&T restricted customers’ access to Apple’s FaceTime unless they paid for a higher-tier internet plan. Only after widespread protests were the Skype and FaceTime bans lifted.
FCC chair Ajit Pai first previewed this proposal in April, then formally introduced it on November 22 to an overwhelmingly negative reception from virtually everyone except the telecoms and their Republican allies in Washington. 83 percent of voters nationwide — including 75 percent of Republicans — wanted to keep the 2015 net neutrality rules in place, according to a recent University of Maryland survey.