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The Demise of Net Neutrality: Shifting to the Internet Slow Lane

Nov. 30, 2017
The death knell for net neutrality appears to be near. Does that mean it will push most of us into the slow lane of the internet?

Net neutrality will likely go the way of the dodo bird as the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) vote is held on December 14. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is adamant that doing away with net neutrality will rescue the likes of Verizon and Comcast from certain doom due to overregulation. Innovation will again thrive and ISPs will be able to make a boatload of money.

Ok, I admit I’m not a fan of this upcoming change. However, many are pushing for it, albeit mostly those who will benefit from offering features like “fast lane” access to the Internet. Unfortunately, the same infrastructure exists for the Internet, and offering more “fast” services will be done by making the rest of the system “slower.”

In theory, making more money on “fast” services will incentivize those to create more capacity on the infrastructure side. That remains to be seen, but in the short term, it will be a tradeoff since building infrastructure takes time. This is especially true for the “last mile” connection to consumers and businesses, where the U.S. has lagged behind many other countries.

We actually have fast and slow lanes now with different speed connections available from most ISPs. Just pay a little (or a lot) more and use a faster modem/gateway. Presto, faster uploads and downloads. Of course, there’s a catch on most plans especially wireless plans. It seems that “unlimited” doesn’t quite mean “not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.” Most plans have many caveats from per day or per month limits to bandwidth caps with various controls.

Not the Best Laid Plans…

Still, most plans didn’t make major distinctions on the content being pushed through these connections. That’s the major rub with the demise of net neutrality. Now consumers and content providers need to consider what kind of content is being pushed down those pipes. We can look ahead to tiered pricing on everything from streaming video to IoT sensor data. What can complicate things more is that both ends of the connection will be affected by what type of support has been purchased for each connection.

Billing and plans are likely to be as convoluted and inscrutable as cable bills. Bundled services will replace a flat rate for connectivity. This will lead to interesting power plays between ISPs like Verizon and Comcast versus service providers such as Netflix, Google, and Amazon.

Changes due to the lack of net neutrality will have a major effect on consumers, ISPs, and service providers. They will also affect those developing and deploying Internet of Things (IoT) devices and services. This includes the vast range of IoT devices from medical devices to home control and security. It will even have an impact on self-driving cars, since these are essentially high-end IoT devices that will use the internet for a variety of communication services.

ISPs now have a major incentive to become involved in services. This is already happening with streaming video.

Comcast had promised not to block or throttle traffic. Its statement has since been removed from the company’s website upon these new changes occurring at the FCC. The new statement is a bit vague and indicates that Comcast will not “discriminate against lawful content” or impose “anti-competitive paid prioritization.”

Developers and companies should not discount how this change in the net neutrality change will impact their current and long-term offerings. It’s possible that they will have no effect on some and a major impact on others, making some products and services economically impractical. Determining how future changes will affect your plans will require some time for ISPs to implement their changes. We can be certain that they will not be to their detriment, but we can’t assume that they will or will not be advantageous to others.

As for innovation, I doubt that it will improve for developers in general, although it will likely be better for those closely linked to ISPs. This essentially gives large, established companies an advantage over new, innovative companies.

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