How net neutrality will affect your internet

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The Obama administration enacted the final net neutrality rules in April 2015, preventing streaming services and internet service providers from creating so-called "fast-lanes" for high-paying customers. The rules were meant to ensure equal access to the internet for everyone. In a major shift from that policy, the Trump administration has been working to roll back many consumer-friendly policies.

The Trump effect

Although Trump has not made detailed statements about the issue, his appointments to key regulator positions have demonstrated his thinking. In January 2017, he appointed Ajit Pai, who voted against the neutrality rules in 2015, as the chairman of the FCC. The arguments presented by the Trump administration emphasize that regulating broadband internet service providers is unfair and will result in a reduction in investment, which would hurt the economy.

But this argument just seems to be part of the Republican rhetoric of "too much government": net neutrality is just another political battleground to beat down the effects of government oversight. In fact, net neutrality promotes business growth and innovation by levelling the playing field for new start-ups. If the big players are allowed to control the internet, they could just price new entrants out of the market.

Impact on consumers

On the surface, the implications of the removal of net neutrality might not seem catastrophic to consumers. If net neutrality rules are done away with, it would allow internet service providers to offer unlimited data plans to consumers. That would mean they would have access to more streaming content, without worrying about their data allocation; however, it will still be content that their streaming service favours. As a result, consumers' options might become limited in the future. Their day-to-day usage might not be affected if they use big-name services such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Netflix – at least not at first.

With the regulators off their back, these companies might start to change their privacy policies that prevent them from sharing personal data to sell ads. Consumers are already concerned that their internet experience is influenced by their search and viewing history; things might get worse if the regulations are slowly stripped away.

What everyone is saying

The big players from technology hardware, cable and telecommunications, and internet service industries oppose net neutrality regulations because they argue that data discrimination is essential for high-quality service. Companies like IBM, Cisco and Intel contend that if everyone is given the same service without charging higher for better quality, it would lead to a lack of investment in broadband infrastructure; if companies can't get a return on investment, then they will not invest in the first place.

Content providers, on the other hand, support net neutrality because it ensures a free internet. Companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Reddit are adamant that repealing net neutrality would mean that ISPs would be able to control what consumers see online. They would lead to content providers "bribing" the ISPs to give their content preference over others.

What it all means

Things are not as black and white as both the opponents and supporters of net neutrality would have people believe. The internet landscape is constantly changing as the ISPs delve into media production. Their stance on the issue changes as their business interests change. The regulator bends to the will of the administration, which itself bases its decision according to political and business interests. In the end, it is the consumers who will suffer by either paying more for higher-quality content, or by giving up their right to a free internet without even knowing it.

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