by Daley Wilhelm

Here’s another desperate, alarmist article explaining how net neutrality is a deadly serious thing that you need to be paying attention to. Because it really is. Later this week, the anticipated repeal of net neutrality will have immediate and far-reaching repercussions. You should expect big changes in how your everyday use of the Internet will be effected.

This is just a taste of a future without net neutrality.

You know when a web page isn’t loading, but the ads are? When an ad plays perfectly fine, but then the video you actually clicked on is a buffering mess? That’s largely what the Internet will look like without net neutrality. As it stands now, Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Verizon have to treat all traffic equally—ads and the content that you really want are allocated the same speed.

This means that big sites like Amazon and obscure sites like bytebsu.com are equal under net neutrality. Stranger Things and Vine complications will be using the same amount of internet. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to change that.

Specifically, Pai is for repealing net neutrality in order to give big Internet providers more room to make revenue off of internet users. Without net neutrality, Verizon would be free to slow the loading of sites that it considers to be competition and speed up connection to sites that possibly cut expensive deals with the ISP in order to make sure its content is accessible, all while charging users for access to specific sites in package deals similar to cable.

Your wallet

This is the internet without net neutrality:

Image from Tech Insider

And note that this isn’t one of the many user-generated images like the one David Letterman tweeted of what you could be expecting to pay to Comcast without net neutrality. This is from Portugal’s wireless carrier MEO, where without net neutrality, you have to pay a flat data rate. And then pay for the unlimited data you purchased to apply to messaging apps like Skype or FaceTime. And then pay for another package in order to get social media to have that data. Pay more for video streaming. Music streaming is an entirely different package. Need your email for work? That’s an additional charge.

This is on top of what you already pay for Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, or any other paid service, but now the apps that you’ve used for free like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat come with a price. Rather than today’s model of paying just one fee for everything to run at the same speed, you’re asked to split this payment or to pay additionally to have everything on the same level. 

Social media (but also Freedom of Speech)

Social media, especially platforms like Facebook, are arguably already clogged with ads and sponsored content alongside those outdated memes your aunt posts. Without net neutrality, it might become even harder to sort through the spam to find the things your friends and family are actually posting about.

Social media provides a platform to anyone with an internet connection. It has essentially become the world’s soapbox, where movements can be organized, where people can ask for help and find it, and where one person’s voice can be broadcast globally.

Anyone can say anything on the Internet. What if that stops being true? Without net neutrality, blogs critical of Verizon, Comcast, or businesses in their pockets could be censored. Already there is speculation that champions of net neutrality have been silenced.

Imagine if a person has something important to say or express, but they couldn’t afford Twitter for the month. Barbara wanted to post about her GoFundMe for her hospital bills, but because of said hospital bills she couldn’t afford the social media package needed to promote her dire situation. You set up grandpa’s Facebook, but because he won’t pay for the extra package he can’t see all your graduation pictures since he lives half a world away.

Social media has become essential to communication. Should those who can’t afford it be denied a voice? We’re all broke college students here, but why should we be denied the ability to network and befriend and communicate and help each other?

Streaming

Comcast owns NBC/Universal, which has long been rumored to be contemplating rolling out its own streaming service, and therefore would benefit from slowing Netflix to a crawl in order to make viewers turn to Comcast content.

Good luck binging your favorite shows, too. ISPs would be free to limit how much content you stream. That’ll be another five-dollar fee to finish the next season of Orange is the New Black.

Work (and finding it)

There’s a reason why public libraries have computers with Internet available to the public. That American dream of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps? Fairly impossible when you can’t send in job applications, reply to emails, or search for jobs. The idea of “hitting the pavement” is a myth in the modern world. The information superhighway is where the job hunt is.

Public libraries might be able to provide that service, but what if that service is throttled in favor of certain employers? Amazon could pay for their job postings to be favored, while the competition’s postings could be throttled or even blocked entirely.

If you actually are able to land a job and then can afford access to your email, then you better hope you can afford any of the sites you might need for reference, or video streaming for training videos. Not to mention social media if you’re working for a small business. God forbid you freelance or are self-employed.

Many businesses, especially those that are small and/or local, turn to social media for free promotion and advertisement that they might not be able to afford otherwise. With fined access to Facebook or Twitter, it becomes all the more difficult for small businesses to get ahead.

Gaming

Bandwidth caps. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a game of League of Legends or finally getting to max level in World of Warcraft. If you use “too much Internet” then you could be reduced to an unplayable crawl at any moment.

What’s likely to happen is that there will be yet another package aimed at covering video games. Even console games, if you’re looking to play online. The message here is that if it’s on the Internet, you will be charged.

Start ups, small businesses, and innovation

Already sites can pay to be prioritized to pop up first when it comes to Google searches. This could go further under the repeal of net neutrality in that ISPs could ask online retailers or other services for payment in order to have their site function at a decent speed.

An ex-Google engineer Yonatan Zunger has pointed out how that could lead to a slippery slope of increasing demands.

If this strategy sounds familiar, you might be recalling it from old mob movies. Local businesses pay the mob for protection. Small sites pay Verizon to keep from being slowed to oblivion.

This puts a huge obstacle in the way of new businesses, content creators, and others. The next Vine, YouTube, Reddit, whatever might never have the chance to take off because it couldn’t pay the toll to get the platform that would have launched it.

We don’t know what we might miss out on.

The world as we know it

Like many apocalypses, this might not happen all at once. Slowly, we’ll become frustrated when Wikipedia doesn’t load, so we’ll turn to Comcast-pedia instead, which loads just fine. I might be dramatic in painting a picture of this dystopia wherein Internet Service Providers get to decide what we can and can’t view on the internet, but we’re at the point where this could happen.

It’s something we do have to think about when something that has become a cultural equalizer is under the threat of being censored in any way—especially when literally no one except for those who can stand to make a profit wants it.

December 14th, 2017 is going to be a significant day in history should net neutrality be repealed. I sincerely hope that a free internet where you can watch what you want, read what you want, and buy what you want without the influence of Comcast or Verizon won’t become just one of those things ’90s kids will love to remember.


Sources: Business Insider, The Verge, PC Gamer, Twitter, WiredGizmodo

Images: Tech Insider, Twitter, boingboing.net

Daley is a Telecommunications (Video Production) major who also minors in Japanese. Through Byte she does graphic design, video editing, podcast hosting, visual effects, and most importantly writing. Daley does this through the scope of examining the impact pop culture has on our everyday lives.

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