It's official. "Net Neutrality" regulations in the United States, in place since 2015 will, in effect, cease to exist after June 11 thereby allowing internet providers to block, or slow websites, and by proxy, speed up access to others provided that they disclose the practice.
These changes were coming. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) already voted in this direction last December. Internet service providers (ISPs) in America can now choose to block, slow, or provision service access and speed for content and services; this includes charging for “Fast lanes,” or special treatment such as higher download speeds.
While the official position is that this ruling will result in a “freer and more open Internet,” and that the internet (in America at least) will not include blocking or throttling, though there is significant consternation within industry circles over what the change will really bring. Claimed benefits include allowing customers flexibility and choice to buy the service plans that’s best for them while giving innovators the opening they are looking for to grow.
Opposition believes this is delusional. While executives publicly declare that they have no change to their infrastructure investment plans based on net neutrality rules, small shifts are still expected to start once the dust has settled. Based on past patterns, indications that preferential treatment, throttling (already happened in Canada prior to Net Neutrality and Portugal where it continues to this day) and blocking of some sites or services in some cases, are expected to creep into industry practice.
The first part of this fight, in America and around the world, comes down to the place of the ISP in society and industry. Are they a utility, or a provider of media service and content? Telecoms drool over their position as media players so they can bundle and make all sorts of advantageous plays not just on getting internet content to your computer, phone, or connected-TV – but how and what gets there in the first place.
If you are a giant media company you want to make sure that new small fish with a great idea (but not so much cash) doesn't get a foothold in the market
One logical conclusion is that given what has been at issue all along, that the long play – should everything come to fruition as it appears it will – is that content bundling, streaming packages will start to appear. But in support of this will be blocked content, throttled content, potential stifling of new players as they won't be able to "buy in" to get preferential access. Americans may also see special "lanes" spintered packages (as already exists in Portugal) as well as other behaviours such as useage caps and cencorship.
This is of course speculation based on history, other countries, and educated surveys of industry players. It will take some time to play its course. Immediate changes are unlikely to appear.
Globally, while this won't affect internet consumption directly, as the ISP-to-home or business route is untouched by this decision, it remains to be seen how accessing the American market may be affected. Global players may well find themselves battling (read: paying money) inside the American landscape to get audience if they want access to specific audience segments.
Follow the money. Tolls and prioritization can now be bought, which is a euphemism for locking out your competition. If you are a giant media company and you want to make sure that new small fish with a great idea (but not so much cash) doesn't get a foothold in the market, you buy out various segments by creating exclusive or preferential agreements for fast-lane speeds to an ISP's audience thereby blocking that startup's chance to even get going. They will have to either find a way raise competitive capital, take a much different route and probably not really compete, or give up altogether.
This all comes down to competition and whether there is enough competition amongst incumbent American ISPs along side smaller regional players. And while the answer not resoundingly "no", it is certainly not at all a "yes". There are large parts of the United States where one ISP is the limit of competition – whatever that ISP player says, goes. You don't like it? Too bad.
And with that starts the hand-wringing of what is to become of access to the internet in America; for both users and the businesses and sites they want to reach. And vice versa.