Internet: The end of net neutrality?
Well, that didn’t take long, said Daniel Cooper in Engadget.com. It was obvious when President Trump picked Ajit Pai, an avowed opponent of internet regulation, to head the Federal Communications Commission last month that an assault on year-old net neutrality rules was in the pipeline. But just two weeks into his tenure, Pai began to undermine net neutrality’s most basic principle, namely that all internet data be treated equally. In particular, he has scrapped a major investigation into “zero rating” services offered by AT&T and Verizon. The companies allow customers to stream unlimited TV shows and movies from their own branded services, like AT&T-owned DirecTV Now and Verizon’s Go90, without counting that content against mobile data caps. That arrangement is at least a violation of the spirit of net neutrality, if not of the law. Once a company can give preference to some content over others, the internet is no longer “a free and open market.”
“It’s time to face facts: Net neutrality’s as good as dead,” said Lance Ulanoff in Mashable.com. The FCC was one of the last checks on mega conglomerates like Comcast and Verizon, which are consolidating control over not only how we access the internet but also what content is available on it. You can fully expect broadband and wireless providers to start squeezing out competitors by giving preferential treatment to their own content. Verizon, for example, could make AOL sites load faster than their competitors’ sites. Comcast could offer free streaming of NBC shows on your mobile at extra-fast speeds, while charging Netflix extra fees to stream Stranger Things at slower speeds— a cost Netflix would most likely pass on to consumers. Small and independent content providers, meanwhile, would struggle to survive in the new pay-to-play system. “This will be our new net reality.”
That’s why we need to fight hard for net neutrality, said Troy Wolverton in the San Jose Mercury News. The current rules are the result of years of tireless lobbying efforts by activists, technology companies like Google, and concerned citizens. “All three are going to be needed to defend the rules now that they are in place.” President Trump and the FCC aren’t going to destroy the internet, said Hiawatha Bray in The Boston Globe. The real problem is that the big internet providers have “near-monopolies” in many places, meaning they can abuse their power. One glimmer of hope: New broadband technologies like 5G wireless internet and AT&T’s AirGig, which “piggybacks on the electric wires already hanging between utility poles,” could create so much new competition that net neutrality laws would be rendered moot. “When consumers can pick from two or three providers, none would dare push us around.”