Demise of net neutrality stirs fresh debate over pros, cons

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The repeal of net neutrality is official. Now, the debate over this new policy direction’s implications can resume in earnest.

On Monday, June 11, the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality, which had required internet service providers to offer equal access to all web content.

“The rules, enacted by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2015, prohibited internet providers from charging more for certain content or from giving preferential treatment to certain websites,” reported The New York Times.

What remains unclear is how businesses, particularly small businesses, will fare following the repeal.

“The opponents argued that the repeal would open the door for service providers to censor content online or charge additional fees for better service — something that could hurt small companies — and several states have taken steps to impose the rules on a local level,” The New York Times reported. “Still, the repeal was a big win for Ajit Pai, the F.C.C.’s chairman, who has long opposed the regulations, saying they impeded innovation. He once said they were based on ‘hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.’”

Business News Daily noted that groundwork for the repeal of net neutrality – and the ultimate policy of net neutrality itself – reached back more than a decade.

“Those who support the FCC's ruling, like members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, believe very little will change for internet users, and that only major internet companies will be affected (by being forced to pay for the bandwidth they consume),” Business News Daily reported. Some even argue “that creating fast lanes for major bandwidth consumers, and secondary lanes for smaller consumers, makes sense economically and from a service standpoint.”

But the New York Times reported, “Many consumer advocates argued that once the rules were scrapped, broadband providers would begin selling the internet in bundles, not unlike cable television packages. Want access to Facebook and Twitter? Under a bundling system, getting on those sites could require paying for a premium social media package.”

The Times continued, “Another major concern is that consumers could suffer from pay-to-play deals. Without rules prohibiting paid prioritization, a fast lane could be occupied by big internet and media companies, as well as affluent households, while everyone else would be left in the slow lane. Some small-business owners are worried, too, that industry giants could pay to get an edge and leave them on an unfair playing field.”

Then, there’s a third view, that the repeal of net neutrality won’t affect the way the Internet functions since “Today, the internet is run by giants. A handful of American tech behemoths — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — control the most important digital infrastructure, while a handful of broadband companies — AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon — control most of the internet connections in the United States,” Farhad Manjoo argued in a recent New York Times. He added, “by the time Tom Wheeler, an F.C.C. chief under President Barack Obama, handed down rules to protect neutrality in 2015, we had already strayed quite far from the internet of the early 2000s, where upstarts ruled our lives.”

The Internet has been called a great equalizer, helping small business compete against big business through access to services that had not been accessible to them until the past decade. We believe it still helps level the playing field, however, it seems net neutrality is no longer part of the equation – for now.