If the memes are right, a net neutrality regulation expected to be revoked next week is the only thing standing between you and an overpriced internet bill for unloaded emails and buffering episodes of “Stranger Things.”
But repealing net neutrality will not make your internet more expensive and sluggish. Neither will it crush competition and permit censorship. Most likely, the repeal will change very little. It may even have a positive effect, expanding options both for internet service providers and consumers, so we can all enjoy our TV shows — and our memes.
Net neutrality has been the internet standard since the popularization of the web in the ’90s. It means that consumers pay an internet service provider (ISP), like AT&T or Comcast, a flat monthly rate to access all websites at the same speed. Under this unregulated standard, the internet has flourished.
Then in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the Internet Conduct Standard and classified the internet as a public utility to ensure internet service providers would abide by its rules.
But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai now wants to abolish the regulation. On Dec. 14, the FCC will vote on a proposal to restore internet freedom, which would eliminate some regulations, repeal the Obama-era classification of broadband as a common carrier service (like the telephone), and turn the web back over to the Federal Trade Commission.
Despite the apocalyptic headlines (including predictions of the “end” of “the open internet”), the rollback would benefit consumers.
For one, it eliminates a superfluous regulation. The net neutrality rule promised to protect the consumer from problems that hadn’t occurred. Neither are they likely to occur in the future. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, lawyer Ken Engelhart explains that competition already discourages ISPs from censoring content and encourages them to cater to the consumer.
“I worked for a telecommunications company for 25 years,” he writes, “and whatever one may think about corporate control over the internet, I know that it simply is not in service providers’ interests to throttle access to what consumers want to see. Neutral broadband access is a cash cow; why would they kill it?”
Gerald Faulhaber, a business economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania who served as Chief Economist at the FCC from 2000-2001, told me passing Pai’s proposal would reduce government interference and benefit the economy.
“We had a long time of the internet being just this marvelous thing, and the concept of saying, ‘We’re going to protect this marvelous thing by regulating it like a public utility,’ is crazy.”
Also, even if ISPs move to new models of internet access that include packaged offers rather than flat rates (you pay X amount for social media and X amount for email), ISPs aren’t going to swell prices. They’re still competing with one another. If they charge you a monthly rate upwards of what Drake spends on tracksuits, other companies will compete for your business by lowering theirs. Even in a packaging system, the best package wins.
Plus, users who want limited access would pay much less than they do currently with a flat rate. Everyone would save money, even your grandma who pulls up the internet once a week just to check “the Facebook.
And rather than sustaining corporate monopolies, repealing net neutrality actually benefits small websites. As it stands, companies like Google and Amazon are happy to pay the same rate for bandwidth as your favorite mommy blogger with a couple thousand followers.
Far from increasing prices and decreasing speed, repealing net neutrality will allow you to enjoy the content you love without stifling market competition. Net neutrality isn’t holding up the internet. The competitive market is. So you can thank the economy, not the FCC, for your memes.