OPINION: Like Netflix? You might pay more if Net Neutrality ends

By: 
Joshua Waddles
Staff Writer

Likely before the end of the year, the FCC is planning a vote on whether or not to end Net Neutrality, an Obama-Era provision that said companies may not charge different rates for different users, content, websites, platforms, applications, attached equipment or methods of communication. It also forbade internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or charging money for specific websites and online content.

The end of Net Neutrality has two implications: partisan censorship and internet “fast lanes,” meaning one user’s data speed takes priority over another’s. To think of internet “fast lanes” in visual terms, it would be like closing off one lane of the highway and reserving it only for those drivers who paid a toll.

The most common concern circulating on social media right now is that ISPs (internet service providers) will censor political content if net neutrality is repealed. This is something they’ve done before.

In 2007, AT&T censored two improvised lines from a webcast of a Pearl Jam concert for criticizing then President George W Bush. The webcast ran on a delay so they could bleep out profanity or blur nudity, but monitors hired by AT&T censored the line “George Bush, leave this world alone, George Bush, find yourself another home.”

But the bigger problem is likely to come in the form of dirty business tactics.

In 2005, Comcast, the company which has recently showed outrage at the implication that the company would block or throttle traffic and not be transparent, blocked and delayed traffic using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol and denied it for months until the Associated Press found evidence of this.

In 2010, Windstream Communications, a DSL provider, hijacked search results made using the Google toolbar and constantly redirected users to Windstream’s own search results.

From 2007 to 2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype because it didn’t like the competition.

And from 2011 to 2013, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon blocked Google Wallet in favor of Isis (a mobile payment system, not the terror group), of which all three companies had shares.

TV streaming networks such as Netflix and Hulu have particular reason to be concerned. Many ISP’s are also cable providers, and cable companies have lost a fortune from people dumping their $150 a month cable providers in favor of $10 a month Netflix or Hulu. Comcast, which forced Netflix to pay in order to end its data throttling in 2014, is also a cable company. Other ISP’s, such as AT&T, own or partner with competing products.

One other concern people have shared, which is much less likely, is that the ISPs would begin charging “packages” or “bundles” for access to certain websites just as the cable companies do with channels. For example, people fear the ISPs might charge a $9.99 a month “bundle” for access to Facebook, CNN, Twitter and Youtube. If the ISPs tried such a thing, it would surely result in a massive legal battle. And while the cable companies’ interactions with channels might have set a precedent in favor of the ISPs in that hypothetical legal case, it’s hard to imagine the ISPs would have the backbone to go through with it. Especially considering the many methods internet users have of bypassing blocked content, as demonstrated in China and every country that’s ever tried to block Twitter.

These methods of accessing blocked material are also the reason why any attempts to block political content would be doomed to fail. In today’s political climate, ISPs would have to be insane to attempt to block political content. But the idea that it would even possible to block political content is borderline insane already, to anyone with a little understanding on the nature of the internet. While they might have the ability to cause problems for news sites like CNN or The Washington Post, there would be no possible way to prevent these organizations from putting their articles on the internet somewhere and sharing them on Facebook.

But the idea of Netflix having to raise rates again is very possible. Netflix has had some financial struggles and already had to raise rates in October. It’s well-known that Netflix has taken out large loans to improve the site. If ISPs charge Netflix to stop them from throttling company’s speed, as Comcast has done in the past, Netflix might have no choice other than to raise rates again.

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