We knew it was coming, but today, US FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his plan to gut net neutrality and hand over control of the internet to service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon (which also happens to be Pai's former employer). This could have global implications, even affecting Australians.
The new plan, titled the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order", promises to end government "micromanaging" of the internet in exchange for added transparency from service providers. However, it's also ready been widely criticised for removing the consumer protections passed by the FCC in 2015.
The FCC is set to vote on the proposal on December 14, and it's expected to pass thanks to a 3-to-2 party split favouring the Republicans. This plan sets a dangerous precedent that other countries such as Australia may follow in the future. It isn't too late to save the free and open internet, but if you're having trouble understanding or explaining exactly what the end of net neutrality means (and why it's a problem), here are a few key ways that Pai's plan could affect the average internet-user.
Slower Speeds (Or Worse) For Some of Your Favourite Sites
Without net neutrality, internet providers will have the freedom to carve up the internet into slow and fast lanes - and charge companies for access to higher speeds. For smaller startups that can't afford to pay extra, this could be a death sentence. Even bigger tech giants such as Netflix and Amazon may not be willing to pay extra, resulting in slower streaming speeds for some of your favourite shows.
Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon in the US, also have media properties of their own (Comcast owns NBC while Verizon owns Yahoo and AOL, to name a few). Without net neutrality, service providers could easily prioritise their own content over competitors. They could even block access to other sites that are critical of them or pose a competitive threat.
If a company such as Netflix does agree to pay extra fees, it's likely those prices will passed on to you, the consumer. That goes for pretty much every streaming service, along with cloud storage or any other service you pay for online.
The end of net neutrality could even raise the price of video games, especially for those played online. Internet service providers may decide to charge extra for the ability to connect to a game server, and that price could be tacked on to future games. You might even end up paying an extra fee for every hour of online gaming.
Pay TV-Style Internet Bundles
One of the top reasons people keep quitting pay TV in favour of online streaming is because of bundles that force you to pay for 30 (or 300) extra channels when all you want is Showcase or FOX8. Killing net neutrality could bring the same business practice to the internet, forcing you to choose between different tiered bundles depending on the sites you need.
That might be fine if you can get by on a cheap and limited bundle, but for most people it will mean paying extra for apps and services they don't care about. In the future, getting access to Netflix or even Google Search could mean upgrading to a more expensive plan, unless you're happy using your internet provider's own crappy alternatives.