The fate of a free and open internet seems to be hanging in the balance, with the Federal Communications Commission seemingly on the cusp of repealing the safeguards put in place to ensure a level playing field for everyone. The FCC, led by chairman Ajit Pai, seems intent on removing the agency’s powers to regulate internet providers, thereby allowing them to create all sorts of new revenue models. They could package internet services into cable-like bundles that only allow you to access the portions you’ve paid (them) for. They could throttle bandwidth for companies that don’t pay them additional fees, or really anyone if it competes against a service they provide. The future, at least for ISPs, is wide open.
What’s almost certain is that a removal of net neutrality safeguards will be bad for the consumer, who will in some way or another have their choices made for them and who will likely be on the hook for additional fees, either directly to the ISP or to the internet service as they pass on *their* additional fees to users. And that’s not to mention the effect it will have on stifling online innovation by making launching a new business extraordinarily cost-prohibitive.
At the very least, a world lacking net neutrality rules will drastically impact how media is sold to the audience.
Imagine if YouTube is throttled or unavailable because your ISP doesn’t want to promote or allow easy access to any Alphabet company.
Imagine if the parent company of a studio, which also owns an ISP, decides to block or throttle the websites of movies from other studios.
Imagine if an ISP blocks or throttles the speed of the social networks you’re using to find out about movies and discuss them with your friends and acquaintances.
Imagine if your ISP has throttled or restricted access to your preferred streaming service in favor of their own VOD option, which sells all movies but heavily discounts those from their corporate sibling studio.
In short, what if the only movies you can view the marketing for are the ones your ISP has a vested interest in?
Current net neutrality rules are based on the idea that the internet is a utility like water or power. Even if a company in a certain market is the only electricity provider it can’t charge more for you to charge your iPhone than it would to charge your Android phone. That’s exactly what could happen if ISPs are allowed to go crazy and begin profiting off making the internet a scarce and costly resource.
Now ask all those same questions about media in general and you’ll also understand how the drive by the current administration to loosen the rules around media ownership are just as troubling to players at all levels. Competition could be stifled, the flow of information to the audience filtered to solely align with the interests of the parent company (which is tied to their desire to curry favor with the administration) and more.
The media landscape, both online and off, is about to undergo a serious upheaval. Watch for how things change in the next year because, if these and other proposed changes are implemented, it’s going to be a bumpy period of media history.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.