As of today, Net Neutrality is no more. The 2015 law forbade internet service providers from charging extra for the use of specific websites or services--or throttling the speed of specific websites or services. That law was repealed by a vote of the Federal Communications Commission back in December, and the repeal has finally taken effect.
What will that mean to you? Lower prices and more innovation, if you believe Net Neutrality detractors, who tend to be anti-regulation in general. We can only hope they're right. Because there's good reason to believe that the end of Net Neutrality could spell trouble, both for entrepreneurs and for ordinary consumers, in various ways. Here are just a few of them:
1. Want to use Facebook? That'll be extra.
If you (still) have a cable TV account, think about how that works for a moment. You may not be able to watch HBO or ESPN or any number of other channels unless you pay extra to do so. Now that Net Neutrality is gone, the same could happen to your favorite websites and web services.
Does that sound far-fetched? It wouldn't to people in Portugal, because a version of that is already happened there. California Representative Ro Khanna tweeted a screen shot last fall of a Portuguese wireless provider offering various bundles: a "social" bundle that includes Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., a "music" bundle that includes Spotify, TuneIn, etc., and so on. Each of the bundles costs 4.99 euros (about $6). If you don't buy the bundles, you can still use those sites, but the data to access them will count toward your limited data quota, and if you go over your data quota without a bundle, you'll have to pay. Of course, the same applies to any websites or services not included in the bundle--for example, Pandora is not included in the music bundle which puts it at a disadvantage among this carrier's users.
This doesn't just suck for Pandora and for consumers. It also sucks for any music streaming startup that might be trying to gain a foothold in that market.
2. You're stuck in the slow lane.
Without Net Neutrality, providers are free to create a fast lane for some websites and a slow lane for others. For example, consider that Comcast is the biggest internet provider in the country, and that it also partly owns Hulu. Don't you think Comcast would prefer to support its own service with fast streaming speeds, and use slower speeds to impede Hulu's rivals, such as Netflix and YouTube? Up until today, doing that would have been illegal. Now it's legal.
3. Your e-commerce site can't get customers.
If you're a small online retailer, you know how tough it already is to compete against Amazon and other e-commerce giants. But just imagine how much harder it would be if your website took three or four times as long to load as Amazon's or Walmart's. Research shows that for every fraction of a second people have to wait for a web page to load, you lose prospective customers. But if internet providers begin charging companies extra to have their sites load quickly, and you can't afford to pay those higher prices, you may be stuck with no choice but to hope your customers will be patient enough to stick around.
4. Sorry, you can't go there.
Under Net Neutrality, providers had no right to block users' access to any website unless the website had broken the law. Now internet providers are empowered to block any site they choose. That could include sites with political views that differ from the providers' executives, for example. This is--I hope--a far-fetched scenario, and I'm hopeful it won't happen. But if I'm wrong, whether you're a fan of Breitbart or MoveOn, you could suddenly find you don't have access anymore.