When you’re traveling and connect to the hotel’s wireless network, you’re usually presented with two options. You can jump onto the public WiFi network for free but suffer speeds that can be frustratingly slow, or you can pay some money—$10 or $12 or so a night—and get a higher speed. Sometimes you get a third option—pay even more and get even faster speeds.
However, that’s not how the network providers in the U.S. typically deliver connectivity and network access, at least for now. The government’s net neutrality rules—first imposed in 2010 and expanded in 2015 to include wireless services that bring cellular data connectivity to your smartphones and tablets—essentially is dubbed the internet a public utility and broadband providers as “common carriers,” giving the Federal Communications Commission oversight authority over AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other internet service providers. That is about to change.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the agency this month will repeal many net neutrality provisions, a highly controversial decision that has inflamed passions on both sides.
What that means for carriers is that they now have options.
Net neutrality supporters argue that any change will radically alter the way the internet has operated for the past couple of decades. Carriers—which will now be called “information services” under the law—would be able to create tiers of access, charging more for faster speeds and higher capacity, or for guaranteed data rates. It’s feared by some that this will make the Internet a paid service most accessible by wealthier people, dismantling its current democratic nature where everyone has equal access.
Those against net neutrality say carriers now are forced to allow huge amounts of data to run over their expensive networks—Netflix and its streaming services being a perfect example—without being compensated. Eliminating net neutrality allows network providers, who have to spend enormous amounts of money to maintain their networks, to monetize their data services, something that has been an issue since they went back to offering all-you-can-eat plans.
Whatever happens, the only guarantee is that the debate will continue beyond December. So tell us, what’s the future look like with net neutrality out of the way? How will the carriers respond?