Early this week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that the commission will rule on rolling back net neutrality rules in December, The New York Times reports.
Pai said eliminating the rules was necessary so that “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.”
While tech companies like Netflix and Twitter spoke out against Pai’s plan, big telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T have been lobbying the FCC to make this change for years.
The question is: which side is looking out for the consumers?
According to Pai, the change will mean “consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”
Right now, telecom companies can make you pay more for faster internet, but they can’t make you pay more to access certain sites and services. They also can’t block your access to certain sites or services.
Under the new rules, that could change.
Should a telecom company decide you ought to pay more to watch Netflix, it can charge you more for that privilege.
Now, telecom expert and former FCC employee Kim Hart told the PBS NewsHour that companies would have to tell consumers first before they made this change, and consumers could decide not to opt in, but either way, should the companies decide to go this route, there would be no regulations to stop them.
Business Insider points out that we already have an example of a country without net neutrality regulations: Portugal.
In that country, telecom companies sell access to apps and websites piecemeal, as you can see below.
If you’re a Meo customer in Portugal and you want to access everything an average American customer has access to, you’re paying an additional 24.95 euros (29.49 USD) on top of your regular data bill every month.
If you’re hoping that competition would keep prices low should American telecom companies decide to go this route after the FCC net neutrality repeal, we’ve got bad news for you.
In most places in the U.S., there is no competition. The Verge reports the 78 percent of Americans either have no high-speed internet access or have just one telecom provider choice where they live.
So if you have Verizon as your only choice, and Verizon says you have to pay an extra $20 a month to watch Netflix, and you want to watch Netflix, you’ve got to pay that extra $20 a month.
In the worst case scenario, no amount of money could be enough to unlock access to certain sites. Under the new rules, if a telecom company decides to block access to a site because they don’t like it for some reason, they are free to do so.
One former Google employee envisions a scenario where telecom companies hold website for ransom, demanding that their owners pay them in order to ensure consumers have access to them.
What can you do about all this?
Well, the FCC is currently taking public comments on the decision: if you don’t think it’s a good idea, you can tell them why.
Whether or not this is worth your time is up for debate. The Verge and others recently reported that the FCC is ignoring the majority of these comments, and that unless some compelling legal argument is made, the comment will be tossed aside.
Too, the general sense is that despite the uproar so far (22 million comments have reportedly been submitted since the FCC first began discussing changing its net neutrality rules in May), the FCC will get rid of its current net neutrality rules.
Hart, for her part, gave those in opposition to this move a glimmer of hope. She told the NewsHour that we can expect there to be several legal challenges to the rule change. So expect to see companies like Netflix, Twitter and Facebook, as well as private citizens, suing the FCC over this before the year is out.