The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday
to repeal its net neutrality rules.
The repeal is good news for Facebook, Google, Amazon,
and the other big internet companies that have deep pockets and
can afford to pay any tolls put in place by the
The repeal could make the Big Tech companies even more
powerful, because their smaller rivals will likely have less
ability to afford such fees.
In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission’s vote
Thursday to dismantle its net neutrality rules, there’s been a
lot of talk about how the move will destroy the free and open
nature of the internet.
I’m not going to dismiss such concerns. But I think they ignore a
bigger problem — the biggest technology companies were already
threatening the openness of the internet, and the repeal of net
neutrality is only going to make the situation worse.
The internet today looks a lot different than it did in its early
days. It’s now dominated by a small handful of large tech
companies that arguably have more power than the internet
providers that the FCC regulated under its net neutrality rules.
Facebook, Google, Netflix, and Amazon wield immense control over
how we interact with others, get our entertainment, consume news,
and shop. Chances are if you experience something online, you’re
likely doing it through or by way of one of those Big Tech
Those companies’ power has grown almost unabated, thanks in large
part due to the open nature of the internet. Now, the end of
regulations designed to keep the internet open are likely to
cement their dominance.
The net neutrality provisions barred broadband providers from
block, slowing, or giving preferred treatment to particular sites
and services. The repeal of those rules will allow the providers
to do things they basically haven’t been able to do before, which
likely mean fewer choices and higher prices for you and me.
But the ending of the rules likely won’t just mean added costs
for consumers; it’s also likely to mean new fees for internet
companies. In the absence of the net-neutrality provisions, one
of the things broadband providers will likely attempt is to
charge internet companies tolls to send their web pages or stream
their videos to the providers’ customers.
The repeal of net neutrality could mean added costs — but more
power — for Big Tech
Ironically, this could be good news for Big Tech.
Say, for example, Comcast starts charging streaming video
providers fees to send their movies, shows, and clips over its
wires. Netflix and Google-owned YouTube will likely have no
problem shelling out the cash. They won’t like it, mind you, but
with their deep pockets, they’ll be able to afford it.
However, the smaller video-streaming companies — whether ones
that target particular niches or nascent ones that are aiming to
be the next Netflix — likely won’t have things so easy. Many
probably won’t be able to afford such pay-to-play schemes.
And that’s just in video. Imagine similar fees targeting
messaging providers, e-commerce outlets, or social networking
services. The post-net neutrality internet could severely weaken
or kill off startup or bootstrapped companies — leaving the
current giants even more powerful and much more secure.
To get another idea of how Big Tech could benefit from the repeal
of the net neutrality rules, take a look at some of the countries
in the developing world whose citizens are just now starting to
connect to the internet. In some of those countries, Google and
Facebook have signed deals with particular carriers. While the
carriers often charge pricey fees for access to the broader
internet, those deals — which it’s likely only the Big Tech
companies can afford — allow their customers to access Google and
Facebook for free.
Thanks to such preferential agreements, many consumers in those
countries think Google and Facebook are the internet, not
realizing there is a vast universe of other sites and services
Big Tech’s silence was deafening — and revealing
Big Tech has frequently mouthed its support for net neutrality.
But if you want to get a sense of what those companies really
think about the rules’ repeal, take a look at their actions
immediately prior to Thursday’s vote. Most of them kept a safe distance from the
controversy or were completely silent on the issue, only to
release stronger statements after the
“For the most part, the large
tech companies did not engage in the protest,”the New York Times
noted two days before the vote. “In the past, the companies have played a
leading role in supporting the rules.”
Their silence was
There are a lot of reasons to be upset over the FCC’s decision to
repeal the net neutrality rules. You should worry about your
broadband provider or wireless carrier increasing prices,
charging you more to use certain services, or doing other things
that might degrade your internet experience.
But the potential that the repeal could make Facebook, Google,
Amazon, and the rest of Big Tech even more powerful is equally as
troubling — and deserves just as much scrutiny.
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