Net Neutrality: Imagine Paying For Google?
We live in dark times. The media often tell us that our generation’s (the ‘millennial’ generation) largest problem is deciding which people to befriend on social media. That is not our world right now. We are facing crucial challenges to the very pillars of democracy. Sort of.
Recently, the US Government made a decision to scrap certain rules relating to the Internet bringing an end to the concept of net neutrality. Without net neutrality Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – such as AT&T, BT and Virgin Media – will be able to slow down some sites, make others faster, or even block certain websites. It could even effect how much you pay. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise consequences of ending net neutrality, but we gave it a go anyway.
Potential Consequence #1: Blocked
You’re a customer of the fictional company ‘Mary Media’; they are an ISP that sell you your internet service. Having paid for their service, you sit down to watch your favourite streaming service ‘Petflix’. Unfortunately, it is blocked. ‘Mary Media’ have their own streaming service called ‘Wetflix’ and they don’t like the competition from ‘Petflix’. You’re pretty pissed off. You decide to complain about the situation, and what ‘Mary Media’ has done, on the online forum ‘Read-it’. But that is blocked too.
This is probably the bleakest future and is one a lot of people are afraid of. If this happens, Internet Service Providers will be able to exert a huge amount of control over the Internet and dictate what you use it for. But, things may not be this bad. An ISP that took such drastic measures could face competition from one that didn't or the government could step in if things get too anti-competitive.
Potential Consequence #2: Unrestricted
In this future, you’re playing a game in virtual reality while downloading 1 terabyte of photos and files faster than ever. To top this all off, you’re monthly Internet bill is ridiculously cheap. This is because Internet services (such as ‘Petflix’) are paying ISPs (such as ‘Mary Media’) to help subsidise the cost of your Internet and build faster data connections (otherwise known as ‘fast lanes’). If you went on to ‘Read-it’, or any other of your favourite websites, you will find that none of them are blocked because ISPs just decided not to do that.
This potential consequence looks good. But is your ISP really going to lower your bill because Internet services pay them for a spot in the fast lane? Maybe. However, there isn’t loads of competition in the ISP market so there might not be a lot of incentive for them to do that.
Potential Consequence #3: Subscriptions
Ending net neutrality could result in tiered service provision. If you want access to ‘Petflix’ or other video services you’d just have to pay a little bit more. There will be a spectrum of costs for these services – some will be cheap and some will be more expensive. Essentially, it is the Internet we know now but we pay for it slightly differently. Portuguese telecoms provider MEO shows us an example of the more dramatic consequences of ending net neutrality. Their mobile packages are split so you have to pay additional charges to access popular apps, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube.
The final possibility is nothing really changes. ISPs decide not to do fast lanes or paid tiers of services because they fear consumer backlash or that the rules might change again. Honestly, it is difficult to say what the precise consequences of eradicating net neutrality will be. However, if we aren’t cautious we could quite easily slip into a world that shuns free speech and open communication…. and this would be a very bleak future indeed.