The FCC will vote to repeal its net neutrality rules on
December 14. The outcome is a foregone
The repeal of the rules likely won’t mean broadband
providers will block your access to Google or slow Netflix so
it’s unwatchable. But the move likely will mean the providers
will charge internet companies tolls to be able to send their
content or services to you.
Big companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and
Netflix will be able to afford those tolls. But smaller
internet companies could be boxed out.
It’s inevitable — this week, the Federal Communications
Commission will drive a stake in net neutrality.
On December 14, the agency will vote to repeal the net neutrality
rules it put in place in 2015. With Republicans commissioners who
oppose the rules outnumbering Democrats who favor them three to
two, the outcome of the vote isn’t in any doubt. Your protests
and #netneutrality tweets will do nothing — this is really
Assuming the move isn’t blocked by the courts or overturned by
Congress, it could radically reshape the internet by giving an
already powerful group of telecommunications companies a great
deal of control over what you can see and do online. It will also
likely leave you with higher prices and fewer choices.
That’s all great news for the telecommunications giants – but not
so good for the rest of us.
It’s all about the tolls
Net neutrality is the principal that internet service providers
should, in general, treat all data sent over the network the
same, no matter whether it’s an email, an emoji sent over a chat
service, a phone call, a political rant live-streamed by a
college student from her parents’ basement, or the latest show on
Netflix. In particular, the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules bar
ISPs from blocking, slowing, or providing preferential treatment
to particular sites and services.
The battle over the FCC’s rules comes amid a period of increasing
consolidation among telecommunications and content companies.
Comcast owns NBC Universal. AT&T is in a fight to buy Time
Warner. Verizon owns AOL and Yahoo. Those companies already had
immense power over how you connect to the internet. But they now
also have a big stake in what you see and do online.
The repeal of net neutrality will give these giant companies free
rein to favor their own sites, services, and content, and
discriminate against those of rivals. As long as they tell you
what they’re doing, the government won’t stand in their way.
I don’t think this discrimination will come in the form of
blocking or throttling access to rival sites, as some net
neutrality supporters fear. Instead, I think the
telecommunications companies will basically start charging new
fees and tolls.
If you’re a Comcast customer, you may have to pay extra to be
able to stream video from Netflix or Amazon, rather than from NBC
or Hulu, which Comcast part-owns. If you’re a Verizon customer,
you may get charged extra to access Google’s news or finance
sites rather than Yahoo’s.
The rule-free environment the FCC is creating will give such
companies the latitude to squeeze as much money as they can from
you. The sky’s the limit. And you can bet the companies will get
creative. There’s a reason nearly all of them are cheering net
neutrality’s demise, and it’s not because they plan to save you
As a result, the internet will no longer be an open network.
Instead, it’ll be fractured and split into chunks. What you can
access and see on the network will depend on what you’re willing
It’s bad for most internet companies except the giants
But the loss of net neutrality is not only going to mean higher
prices, it’s likely to mean less choice.
That’s because it will allow broadband providers to impose new
fees not just on you and me, but also on the internet companies
that want to send their movies and websites our way. If Netflix
wants to be able to stream “Stranger Things” to a Comcast
customer, it will have to pay a toll to Comcast. If Spotify wants
to be able to stream the latest hits to a Verizon customer, it
will have to pay a toll to Verizon.
Such tolls will be a costly headache for Netflix, Spotify,
Google, and the other big internet companies — but they won’t be
business breakers. Those companies generally have enough money at
their disposal that they’ll be able to pay whatever prices the
telecommunications companies demand to ensure their customers can
continue to access their sites and services.
But tolls could mean real trouble for those companies hoping to
be the next Netflix, Amazon, or Google. Those startups could be
hobbled by the charges — assuming they can afford to pay them at
The loss of net neutrality will mean fewer voices on the internet
One group of companies could be particularly affected by the
repeal of the net neutrality rules — those that offer niche
content. Such firms likely won’t be able to afford the broadband
providers’ tolls and won’t have the clout to broker deals, Aneesh
Rajaram, the CEO of Vewd, which runs one of the largest smart TV
app stores, warned in a conversation I had with him at Business
Insider’s IGNITION conference last month.
A company Rajaram knows that streams nature documentaries in
ultra-high 4K resolution video is worried it won’t be able to
reach its customers if and when ISPs start imposing their tolls.
If such companies are priced out of the market, more and more of
the content available on the internet will come from the
telecommunications and internet giants and you’ll have access to
fewer and fewer independent voices.
That might be OK if we weren’t already seeing problems related to
the dominance of just a few companies in the internet space,
ranging from poor customer service and high prices in some cases
to the widespread distribution of propaganda in last year’s
election. You can expect such matters to only get worse in a
post-net neutrality world.
If we want to have any hope of addressing those and related
problems, the internet has to remain open to companies that can
take on the big incumbents.
Maybe the courts or Congress will do the right thing and overturn
the FCC’s effort to kill net neutrality. But in the meantime, the
future of the internet looks pretty bleak.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.