It's the end of days, if you ask some.
Net neutrality is officially dead, as Donald Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai fulfilled his promise of putting an end to the controversial Obama-era regulation that decreed all internet traffic should be treated equally.
And while your social media news feeds have been inundated with memes giving extreme examples of how a lack of net neutrality can take down the internet, you've still struggled to understand just exactly what the heck it is!
What was the point of Net Neutrality in the first place?
Net neutrality regulations were adopted by the Obama administration in 2015 to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon or Comcast from throttling access to specific websites or services.
At one point, AT&T was caught limiting users' access to FaceTime if they did not purchase an upgraded data plan. Similarly, earlier this year, Verizon was accused for throttling the speeds of NetFlix and YouTube streams for users - which they dismissed as "network testing."
With ISPs being held to net neutrality regulations, these types of actions would be strictly prohibited and enforceable by law.
So shouldn't I be mortified that Net Neutrality was dumped?
If you're to believe everything that's being said on social media, absolutely! But your fears are unwarranted.
The internet has operated since its inception up until 2015 without Net Neutrality and we've only ever encountered a handful of instances where ISP's or carriers have abused their power - each of which the FCC has stepped in, issued fines, and reversed the actions.
Why will that be any different now?
The landscape has certainly changed over the course of the last two years, with a significant number of people choosing streaming options over traditional cable subscriptions. And with that change in the way we consume data, it's easy to be frightened at how your access to consuming data could be affected.
But we have to look at the larger picture...
ISPs are responsible for the infrastructure
How many high speed internet options does your town have? Has that changed much in the last decade?
Most people only have a one, maybe two, options at best for high speed internet access - a far cry from the dozens that once existed during the days of dial-up. And when these high speed systems were installed, they were more than sufficient for the amount of data we consumed each month.
But today, the average household consumes up to 190 GB of data per month, 95% of which is video. With the impending explosion of 4K video on the horizon, that number is only set to jump to up to 500 GB/month! In the days of AOL, you'd barely see 10 GB of data for a whole neighborhood!
The fact is, our current infrastructure for high speed internet access is not sufficient enough to handle this amount of bandwidth. You've probably noticed it yourself, when you're surfing the internet and everything seems to slow down between 5 - 8 PM, after everyone is home from work/school. As the usage in your neighborhood climbs, your internet's performance deteriorates.
That is, of course, unless the ISP can upgrade their infrastructure.
And that's where nixing Net Neutrality comes in handy
ISPs have been providing unlimited bandwidth for streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, who have very limited overhead. As a result, they've literally empowered these streaming companies to cannibalize their own businesses by cancelling cable subscriptions. And while many of these ISPs are still profitable, it's because they have their hands in other areas of business - not because their internet sales are booming.
ISPs need a way to make money so that they can continue to improve infrastructure. By eliminating Net Neutrality regulations, you give ISPs the ability to negotiate with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Live, or Hulu to revenue share for high bandwidth consuming services.
Your ISP will NOT be throttling access to services that do not pay them. You won't see small businesses choked out of the internet or your Netflix account stop working. Instead, you'll see more creative internet packages that allow for people to spend less on just the essentials.
For example, a company like Comcast may may offer an internet package that has 25mbps download speeds for standard web traffic + a Hulu high speed streaming package that gives the customer streaming video from that service at 100mbps. So while Netflix & YouTube will naturally stream slower, the business relationship with Comcast & Hulu would allow for their customers to stream that service quicker without having to invest in a faster internet package they might not need. *
* This is a purely hypothetical example with literally no substance of truth.
A la carte internet could come, but it already exists!
Look no further than your cell phone bill. You can purchase packages that have limited texts, limited minutes, or limited data - or you can spend a few extra bucks and get unlimited everything.
Look at your streaming services, for that matter - Sling TV, YouTube Live, DirecTV Now, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu - they are all offering a la carte services with tiered pricing that allows you to consume data however you prefer.
The same could come for your internet. And that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.
While you may be an internet hog, that doesn't mean you 65 year old neighbor is, too. And by offering varied packages, ISPs can potential sway more business from the very folks who don't need 200/200 internet to crush their opponents in the latest Call of Duty.
The bottom line is ... your internet isn't going anywhere.
You aren't going to wake up tomorrow and see access to your favorite website disappear. You aren't going to be watching YouTube and see a video slow down dramatically, prompting you to ask for more money.
Your internet will continue to operate the same as it has for the last two years and the same as it did two years ago, before Net Neutrality was even "a thing". In the future, you may just start to see new package deals pop up to make your access more affordable, new ISPs installing infrastructure to give you more access options, or new ways to access the internet altogether.
Regulation stifles innovation. Deregulation inspires competition.
And as lovers of technology, innovation and competition are exactly what we want.