How your internet use could change as 'net neutrality' ends

The change comes as broadband and cellphone providers expand their efforts to deliver video and other content to consumers.

Published: 12th June 2018 10:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2018 10:22 AM   |  A+A-

Demonstrators rally in support of net neutrality outside a Verizon store in New York. (AP)

By Associated Press

NEW YORK: The use of your favourite apps and services could start to change, though not right away, following the official demise of Obama-era internet protections.

Changes are likely to happen slowly, as companies assess how much consumers will tolerate. The repeal of 'net neutrality' took effect six months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to undo the rules, which had barred broadband and cellphone companies from favouring their own services and discriminating against rivals such as Netflix.

The seal of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before a meeting in Washington. (AP)

Internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast had to treat all traffic equally, and couldn't slow down or block websites and apps of their choice. Nor could they charge Netflix and other video services extra to reach viewers smoothly. The rules had also barred a broadband provider from, say, slowing down Amazon's shopping site to extract business concessions.

The change comes as broadband and cellphone providers expand their efforts to deliver video and other content to consumers.

With net neutrality rules gone, AT&T and Verizon can give priority to their own movies and TV shows, while hurting rivals such as Amazon

and YouTube.

But, the battle isn't entirely over. Some states in the US are moving to restore net neutrality, and lawsuits are pending. Also, the Senate voted to save net neutrality, though that effort isn't likely to become law.

For now, broadband providers insist they won't do anything that would harm the internet experience for consumers. Most currently have service terms that specify they won't give preferential treatment to certain websites and services, including their own.

However, companies are likely to drop these self-imposed restrictions; they will just wait until people aren't paying a lot of attention, said Marc Martin, a former FCC staffer who is now chairman of communications practice at the law firm Perkins Coie. 

Companies are likely to start testing the boundaries over the next six months to a year. Expect to see more offers streaming TV services within customers' mobile data limits. Rival services like Netflix count video against data caps, essentially making them more expensive to watch.

Consumer advocates say that the repeal is just pandering to big businesses and that cable and phone giants will now be free to block access to services they don't like. They can also set up "fast lanes" for preferred services — in turn, relegating everyone else to "slow lanes." Tech companies such as Netflix, Spotify and Snap echoed similar concerns in regulatory filings.

Martin said broadband providers probably won't mess with existing services like Netflix, as that could alienate consumers.

But they could start charging extra for services not yet offered. For instance, they might charge more to view high-resolution '4K' videos, while offering lower-quality videos for free. The fees would be paid by the video services, such as Hulu, and could be passed along to consumers in higher subscription rates.



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