What the Net Neutrality Rollback Means for Netflix Users

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ese Olumhense for the Tribune Media Wire

FCC Makes Net Neutrality Changes

Under President Donald Trump’s newly-minted chairman, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is altering regulations created to ensure internet service providers (ISPs) grant equal access to all web content — the rules commonly known as “net neutrality.”

The shift is part of an unspooling of FCC policies from the Obama administration. On Friday, new chairman Ajit Pai announced the end of “Lifeline,” a relatively new federal program created to help subsidize home internet and phone services for low-income households. Almost 13 million Americans were estimated to be eligible for the credit.

The action signals a major breakaway from the Obama-era FCC, which treated the internet as a public utility, creating policies like net neutrality to support that thinking. Pai, who previously served as a FCC Commissioner, has long embraced an adversarial view of many of those regulations. In a speech in December prior to his nomination as FCC chair, he expressed optimism that many of the FCC’s “outdated and unnecessary regulations” would soon be eliminated.

“I do believe that its days are numbered,’” Pai had said of the net neutrality order. “I’m hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility.”

Wait, What Exactly is Net Neutrality?

Have you used Netflix lately? If the answer is yes, today’s news could affect how you stream.

Without net neutrality, an ISP like Optimum, Verizon, or Comcast could potentially slow down or block access to services like Netflix or Hulu, as many ISPs run competitive streaming services to which they hope to draw consumers. Comcast, for example, has its Xfinity TV app.

By slowing down stream speeds for services like Netflix, ISPs can give themselves key advantages. First, frustrated users are likely to flock to their streaming products, and secondly, Netflix — unwilling to lose any of its 93 million subscribers — will be forced to pay the ISP for access to faster speeds.

This is called “paid prioritization,” and it’s a major threat to smaller, start-up businesses, as it forces them to pony up to reach audiences. “It becomes anti-competitive if they are charging websites for access to customers, because the service provider has a large market share, as opposed to charging for real costs for managing the connection,” John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge told U.S. News & World Report after the net neutrality rule was first passed.

But telecom companies and Republicans in both Congress and in the FCC’s leadership saw the regulations as burdensome. Some saw net neutrality’s implementation as the beginning of a slippery slope of FCC overreach, which ultimately could create a chokepoint for investment in telecommunications.

“I Am Worried About What That Future Looks Like”

It’s unclear what a post-net neutrality internet will look like, or how it will affect many of the things most internet users consume — like web streamed video. It’s also unknown whether net neutrality supporters may challenge its elimination in court. Net neutrality already survived a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals in June, when the telecommunications industry challenged it; ultimately, it was upheld.

But with more than 100 key allies in favor of the policy, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, eBay, and Etsy, Apple founder Steve Wozniak and inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the fight over the open internet may head back to the courts.

There is certain to be plenty of controversy about the rollback. During its consideration of the Open Internet order, the FCC received a record number of comments and emails — nearly 4 million. Advocates, including immediate former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, believe that a similar outpouring of support from small businesses, big corporations, and individuals will likely be the “battering ram” to push open a door that is “locked, latched, bolted, and welded right now.”

“Networks have always been crucial and broadband networks will define the 21st century,” Wheeler said recently. “How we connect defines who we are both commercially and culturally. Whether or not those networks are going to be controlled on a gateway basis by essentially four companies is an existential question for American commerce and culture. I am worried about what that future looks like.”

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had announced the end of “Lifeline.” The action taken actually impacts nine newly designated Lifeline providers, which Pai explained in a blog post on Wednesday.

9 comments

  • truck driver

    Went from 300 baud to megabytes per second without government. FCC made sure the airwaves had only 3 networks during this innovation. But the FCC will help, Really.

  • WarningFakeNews

    The dumbing down of American school kids is intentional, and the result has created nearly enough people who cannot understand certain somewhat complicated issues. The goal was to obtain political power over them and then modify so many potential paths of retreat so as to make that political class permanent. Members of BOTH parties, btw, were in on this. One party had 99% of them involved, the other about 20%. We were quite fortunate just now, but we had better not waste this opportunity to right the ship. BTW, the goal here was the control of political speech, that’s “net neutrality” and the danger it represents. Liberals love it.

    • WARNINGFAKENEWS

      I noticed. From what I understand, Trump and Putin are coming together with a new joint ISP. I think that’s a good thing. It won’t be long until we are a part of Russia. I’m all for it.

      • WarningFakeNews

        If you happen to see a post which doesn’t sound like the poster, it’s a troll imitating the poster. I know they got $1500 and an I phone for successfully getting themselves look to be victimized at Trump rallies, but I imagine some of these trolls do it for sport. Whatever.

  • WarningFakeNews

    Liberals are for net neutrality, that should tell you almost everything you need to know. Nice sounding names hide sinister shenanigans and feather the nests of their donors all the while fleecing Americans. Don’t let the scare tactics fool you.

    • Derrick

      The large companies have enough economic advantages due to scale. If I pay for a certain speed of internet, that speed should be maintained regardless of other services or sites I use while on internet.

    • Gflne

      So if a company like Netflix has to suddenly pay more to the ISP for access to faster speeds, who do you think Netflix passes that cost to ? Little guy gets screwed again.

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