Hope you all like buffering. Net neutrality is on the chopping block, so the future may be full of it.
After President Donald Trump took up residence in the White House, one of his first actions was to appoint Ajit Pai as Federal Communications Commission chairman. During his time as an FCC commissioner, Pai has been strongly opposed to net neutrality and has already started making changes to policies approved under Barack Obama's administration — including reversing a decision by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, that allowed nine companies to provide low-income Americans with subsidized internet.
Most people's eyes tend to glaze over when they hear the term net neutrality, but repealing the policy will have real and immediate effects on everyone who uses the web — including you.
Here's what you need to know:
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should give consumers equal access to all legal content and applications without favoring or blocking particular sources. The overall goal is to provide everyone with equal access to the internet. By promoting a free and equal internet, net neutrality ensures that an ISP is not dictating what kind of content the consumer — meaning you — is accessing online.
What would the end of net neutrality mean for you?
Net neutrality aims to hold ISPs (like AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Verizon) accountable for providing all content — streaming video, audio or other multimedia material — equally. This means one medium can’t be faster than another, or content from one provider won’t get preferential treatment with regard to download speeds than does content from a competitor.
Without net neutrality, service providers can resume dictating what content gets special treatment — and consumers can say goodbye to accessing all content on the internet equally. ISPs could, in theory, hamper with your experience by blocking certain content, slowing down your web experience and offering faster speeds to those willing to pay more.
What has the FCC done so far?
Already, Pai has stopped nine companies — Spot On, Boomerang Wireless, KonaTel, FreedomPop, AR Designs, Kajeet, Liberty, Northland Cable and Wabash Independent Networks — from providing low-income households with high-speed internet.
These companies had previously used a federal assistance program called Lifeline. Households registered with Lifeline receive a $9.25 monthly credit to purchase home internet. The FCC previously found that roughly 13 million Americans are eligible for Lifeline and an estimated 900 service providers are part of the program.
Wheeler approved the companies' designation prior to his Jan. 20 resignation.
"These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward," Pai said, according to Ars Technica.
Policy analysts told the Washington Post the FCC's decision could be reflective of future restrictions and caps being placed on the program. This could leave Americans who are depending on subsidized high-speed internet without access to the resources available online, further widening the "digital divide" created by socioeconomic status.
One big change: Capping inmate call rates is no longer a priority.
When inmates call loved ones from prison, they have to set up an account with a private phone company — which usually has a contract with the prison — and the inmate's family members deposit money into the account. A portion of the profits is generally given to the prisons.
In 2015, the FCC voted to cap call rates in state or federal prison at 11 cents per minute, reducing the cost of in-state calls from $2.96 per 15 minutes to $1.65 for the same amount of time, according to the Washington Post.
Under Pai, who voted against the rate caps on prison calls as a commissioner, things are going to change. According to a brief filed by FCC Deputy General Counsel David M. Gossett, the Republican majority at the FCC "does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates for inmate calling services" and will no longer defend the provision.
They will continue defending rates for calls between states. But, according to inmate advocates, 80% of inmate calls are in-state. If rate caps are reversed, inmates and their loved ones can expect to pay more for calls, the Washington Post reports.
An important investigation into mobile companies has been dropped.
Many wireless providers are advertising and offering mobile users unlimited streaming and downloads that should, in theory, not count against data limits. This practice is called zero-rating, and on the outside, it's pretty cool for the consumer, since some forms of data from certain apps and services will be excused from monthly data ceilings.
But there's more to this than meets the eye. Basically, mobile providers can pick and choose what content won't count against data caps — it's not like they're removing the bandwidth cap for all video and audio content. By being able to curate what does or does not count, they can promote their interests and nudge consumers to watch certain content over others, favoring AT&T's DirecTV streaming over your Netflix, for example. T-Mobile's BingeOn and Verizon's Go90 are two other examples of carriers' plans threatening net neutrality.
The FCC was previously investigating this very issue in zero-rating practices. While mobile providers maintain zero-rated practices are "pro-consumer," TechCrunch reported that Wheeler opened a probe into zero-rating offers because these deals could potentially "create unfair advantages when companies aggressively zero-rate their own services."
Under Pai, the agency announced it would be dropping those inquiries entirely.
What's next for net neutrality?
As a vocal opponent of net neutrality, Pai’s next steps will likely eliminate many regulations passed under the Obama administration. The FCC previously reclassified broadband internet as a "common carrier" — a decision Pai opposed at the time and said he plans to reverse. Under Title II of the Communications Act, common carriers cannot "make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services," the Daily Dot explains. This means ISPs cannot interfere with the internet and its legal content transmission via blocking, throttling (limiting bandwidth) or paid prioritization.
Should Pai be successful in his efforts, then all progress made in net neutrality could be eradicated.