As the New Year begins, one of the biggest topics in the tech field is net neutrality. After the FCC voted to end net neutrality in December, the Internet erupted with a variety of theories as to what would happen to Internet access in the coming year. As with most things, there has been a lot of exaggeration and hearsay with the reality lying somewhere in the middle. But no one has a way of foreseeing the future with one hundred percent clarity. So here are the realities of what net neutrality could ultimately mean.
There’s been a lot of talk about “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet and a lot of naysayers who are making doomsday-style predictions that this will be the “end of the Internet.” With the “lane” analogy, your ISP would now be allowed to charge you a higher rate for faster access to certain websites. It is possible that ISPs could charge website owners a higher fee to increase the speed to their websites and throttle (or slow down) those who do not pay. In effect, if Netflix doesn’t pay for the higher rate (for example), then their traffic could be slowed down, causing them to lose business.
That’s how net neutrality works. Let’s say that hypothetically your ISP decides to start charging a new fee spectrum. This means that in order to get faster download speeds, you have to pay more. Supporters of net neutrality will claim that the loss of the regulation will result in higher rates. They also claim that ISPs will be able to offer “tiered service” like cable television companies where you will have to pay more for more Internet access and that the companies will begin to “throttle” access to websites that won’t pay for the added speed. They also suggest that this could mean that ISPs could block access to any website that they don’t agree with, leading to a political minded end to free speech. Supporters of the FCC’s decision argue that the regulations have hurt investments in the broadband industry and that this move actually hurts the free market.
So far, it is still too early to tell what the final result of this vote will have on the Internet. For the time being, the bottom line comes down to the idea that not much will change: if you want faster speeds, you will have to pay for it. Most ISPs offer multiple speeds of connectivity and the higher speeds cost more. Ultimately, the customer gets what he or she is willing to pay.