What Is Net Neutrality, And How Will Rolling It Back Impact Internet Use?

Net neutrality is a buzz word that has been in the news a lot lately. There could be big changes coming to the internet very soon, so let's make sure we all understand exactly what it is and what changes we could be facing.

Net neutrality is when our ISP (Internet Service Providers) allow all customers access to all sites and applications without blocking particular ones. Everything should be accessible to every end user. The ones that support net neutrality see it as creating a fair internet environment for all businesses and products but the big broadband companies do not agree. They see it as their industry being over-regulated.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is Ajit Pai. He made an announcement on Tuesday, April 25, regarding his plan to make some major changes that would impact all internet users.

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First, the overseeing of the broadband ISP companies would be handed over to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Next, the ISP companies would willingly agree to keep the principles of net neutrality by including it in the TOS (terms of service) with their customers. Regardless of that promise, the potential changes that come would be big and felt by consumers.

A positive change would be the freedom that ISP companies would have to be able to provide access to some internet sites without charging for data usage. Though it is likely the FCC would begin to put parameters in place, without net neutrality, more companies may begin to offer the free services.

Potential For Shutting Out Competition

According to The Hill, some of the smaller internet companies and consumer groups are concerned about the potential for big broadband providers to start a practice known as "paid prioritization." Simply put, companies would have to pay a fee to get their site to load for their consumers. The ones that can't or won't pay will be so slow that they won't load. The ISP could actually control the speed of the individual sites.

Without net neutrality, the potential to hurt smaller businesses or sites is definitely an issue. Big companies like Netflix will be able to afford their fees so that shows will still buffer correctly, but any future competitor trying to enter the market could possibly not be able to afford the cost to do business via the internet.

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The rollback of net neutrality would give a major advantage to the current industry leaders such as Charter, since they acquired Time Warner. Major players on the web, such as Google, would also have an advantage. The ISP companies could make sure their content comes through and remove other options to the consumer, or, another possibility, impose a charge on the consumer to access some sites. Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it would be very different than it is today.

The day after Pai made the announcement of his plan to rollback net neutrality, he received a letter from a group of 800 developers, startups, and investors objecting to repealing net neutrality. They claim it would hurt their ability to do business, just as it would for small businesses. They further stated that without net neutrality, the big ISP companies would be given the ability to "pick winners and losers in the market."

So, What's Next?

On May 18, the FCC is holding an open meeting. The odds are good that Pai's proposal will be approved at that time. The good news is that the public will have 60 days to file comments regarding net neutrality. After that, they have 30 days to respond. The FCC has already said that public opinion won't carry much weight, so expect Congress to go ahead with their vote to continue or repeal net neutrality. Chances are we will see groups pop up that will fight this in court if net neutrality is rolled back.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]