WASHINGTON (CNS) — Net neutrality died June 11. It had been given a death sentence last December by the Federal Communications Commission, which overturned its own Open Internet Order of 2015.
You might not have noticed it, because internet service providers weren’t waiting with a list of new ways to separate consumers from their money.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly supported the concept of an open internet, saying that faith and religion-based websites wouldn’t have the resources that other sites could muster to pay for faster routing of their traffic should paid prioritization become the new norm on the information superhighway. The USCCB’s voice was one of millions that sent messages to the FCC last year after it proposed doing away with the rules.
And therein lies one of the things we could very well see with the end of net neutrality: discrimination in cyberspace. Of course, those who do the discriminating would call it “tiered service.”
Think of it as cable TV for the internet. You’ll still have to pay, but the meter wouldn’t be running so much for capacity or speed as for usage.
Data caps used to be confined to someone’s smartphone. Now, anyone’s internet service could be negatively affected with any device anywhere and at any time.
If your Web browsing is confined to relatively static sites, you may be in luck. But online advertisers are running ads with more animation or video. Those eat up a lot more bandwidth than typical display ads.
And internet service providers could collect at both ends of the exchange. Suppose Netflix has a hot new series that hordes of people are waiting to see. Viewers wouldn’t get it on TV — they couldn’t — but only through internet delivery. The internet service provider could charge Netflix for the use of its connection, but it also could charge a user fee to you, the viewer.
Net neutrality provided a level playing field. That allowed for the likes of Netflix and Facebook to become content behemoths. In a new environment, what potential content behemoths will be consigned to the ash heap because of the fees it owners couldn’t afford to pay?
It’s hard to tell at this stage, but if every business in cyberspace is looking for a fresh revenue stream, somebody is going to have to shell out. Eventually, those costs will somehow be passed along to the consumer — the sole entity in this equation not beholden to investors or the stock market.
Let’s go back to the cable experience. Like cable, internet users may have to pay for tiers of service. Bloomberg News reported the situation in Portugal, which has no open internet. For five euros, (about $6), subscribers can get a social media package that includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Messenger and Pinterest. For another five euros, you can get video services like YouTube and Netflix.
That may be all well and good, but what about the rest of the internet? And if this Portuguese internet service provider is bundling these sites, then what becomes of the millions upon millions of other sites? And how will U.S. internet service providers respond? Do they put websites in the slow lane of cyberspace — or do get stuck on the shoulder with a metaphorical flat tire?
Fifty-seven percent of Americans support the concept of net neutrality, according to a Consumer Reports poll. That number jumped to 67 percent who said internet service providers should not be able to choose which sites, streaming services or apps can be given access.
On another front in the net neutrality debate, California lawmakers have tried to pass a bill that would restore net neutrality to the Golden State, which would boast the world’s fifth largest economy if it were its own country.
The bill also contained a clause that didn’t even make it into the FCC’s Open Internet Order of 2015: a ban on “zero rating.” According to the website Fast Company, zero rating is a practice whereby an internet service provider doesn’t apply its own content to data caps.
Imagine how peeved AT&T, which just bought Time Warner, would be if it couldn’t zero-rate HBO on its data plans. Lobbyists worked hard to thwart its passage.
Provisions to the bill that were tossed out in a committee vote taken — without either hearing testimony from witnesses or debate from lawmakers — including the preservation of the concept of net neutrality, and a ban on zero rating and on access fees.
That could be why the bill was weakened so much in committee that the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Scott Wiener, said June 26 it no longer guaranteed net neutrality and was not worth passing in its current form.
California is just one state trying to preserve net neutrality standards taken away by the FCC.
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.
When you keep your eye on TV, what do you see? What are your likes or dislikes? What are your concerns and criticisms? Be as general or as specific as you wish. Send your comments to: Mark Pattison, Media Editor, Catholic News Service, 3211 Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017.
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