Since the Supreme Court decision earlier this year regarding the FCC’s ability to regulate Verizon, debates over net neutrality have been ramping up. The latest blow to be delivered in the battle has come from AT&T and is a response to Netflix’s request for strong net neutrality rules.
What is Net Neutrality? In the simplest of terms, the concept of Net Neutrality is an agreement by ISPs and other internet intermediaries to treat all data equally. This is to say that the data of a funny cat picture will be given the same priority as the latest episode of Orange is the New Black as an email from your daughter.
AT&T announced in a filing with the FCC that if customers will let it charge companies like Netflix a premium for faster delivery of its content, it will lower the price its customers are paying on their bills.
In reality, where the rest of us live, the practice of allowing ISPs to charge for consistent or improved delivery will change the dynamic of how the internet works. Instead of being an open road that anyone can travel on, all roads will become toll roads. ISPs will be able to set a premium on travel to certain locations and, effectively, prevent anyone from seeing content that they don’t deem appropriate.
Really, it comes down to whether you think you can trust the ISPs. There’s little reason to do so. The ISPs have made a practice of continuing to charge higher and higher premiums for degrading service. According to data from Netflix, since October of last year, many ISPs have either seen no increase in their data speeds or have actually shown a decrease. Compare that to Google Fiber, a newcomer to the ISP business, that is providing a service that is 100 times faster than most of its competition. While other providers are working towards incremental downgrades in service, Google Fiber has announced that it is looking to implement technology to increase speeds over an additional 10 fold, from 1gbps (up/down) to 10gbps (up/down).
So sure, AT&T will lower its customers’ bills if they allow net neutrality to essentially die. But they’ll do it by providing an internet that is tailored to fit its schemes.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.