On Tuesday January 14 2014, the Federal Communications Commission struck down parts of the Net Neutrality law, stating that the Federal Government can not enforce Net Neutrality. What does this mean? Basically, that Internet Service Providers are not required to treat all internet traffic equally. This means Internet Service Providers are now allowed to make websites pay a fee to allow “their bandwidth” to flow to that site. For the average user, the Internet Service Providers can throttle or slow down the internet bandwidth to different sites in an attempt to force the users to go to the Internet Service Provider’s preferred content. For example let’s say the Internet Service Providers create partnerships with media content owners and they bundle this content in with their internet service. This bundled media content is now the preferred content of the Internet Service Provider, which means they can throttle or even block their competition’s users bandwidth from the site. This will create a system of internet content monopolies, that will only allow access to the content if that user is on that Internet Service Providers network. This is bad news for the Internet. Freedom of access allows for innovation and invention for so many products based on the premise that all users have open access to the content. One of the biggest issues in the US is that Internet Service Providers have created a system of geographic monopolies based on the old system of utility companies. Unlike utility companies, where they are forced to have common carriers status, which prevents the discrimination of content, the Internet Service Providers are not classified as common carriers.
Now, what does this mean for the owners of websites? It means the Internet Service Providers can charge the website owners a fee to allow their bandwidth to traffic to that site. For the smaller website owners, say a small business, the Internet Service Providers fee can be extensive and unfair. Depending on the number of Internet Service Providers, the fees can add up and will probably bankrupt a smaller business. Of course, if the business refuses to pay the fee, the Internet Service Providers will throttle or even block the site from their own users. This will prevent the production of new innovation and growth from the internet. Imagine if this ruling had happened during the early days of the internet, companies that are now some the biggest companies on the web such as Amazon, Google and Netflix, might have had their traffic throttled. This would have definitely had a negative impact on the growth of these sites and might have even made them obsolete. For the user this ruling would make internet a pain to use, with throttled speeds and even fees to access content that need high bandwidth speeds like sites such as Youtube and Netflix. Many Internet Service Providers have a monopoly on geographic locations which forces the user to use that Service Provider and disallows them to have the ability to switch. In some sense, this makes the Internet Service Providers the robber barons of today’s world, by forcing the normal user to pay for expensive packages to access their favorite sites without being throttled and of course, that Internet Service Provider owns the exclusive rights to that location so user can not switch. For site owners this means paying multiple Internet Service Providers to even allow traffic to that site and unless the site is a major company the cost might not even be affordable to the owner. This ruling means that the Internet’s days of openness and free access is coming to an end unless the FCC rewrites the regulations on Internet Service Providers. If they fail to do this it will create a closed system on the Internet. A system of haves and have-nots, where wealthier companies have the ability reach the greatest amount of traffic and the smaller businesses are forced with throttled speeds. This will be where monopolised content gets the privilege to block out its competitors, even if that means destroying small businesses in the process. The days of innovation and growth from the internet are slowly coming to an end, unless the FCC and the Courts decide to rewrite the regulations on Internet Service Providers and have them be viewed as common carriers, which will allow the Internet to be open and neutral.