Within the last few years, the dialogue around Net Neutrality has greatly fluctuated. It rose to prominence as a pressing issue in mid-2018 after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed certain protections in the federal mandate. In fact, the public’s opinion of repealing Net Neutrality was overwhelmingly bipartisan, with one poll finding 86% of all respondents being in opposition to it. In the aftermath of the legislation’s downfall, however, the topic seems to have disappeared seemingly altogether. This stark contrast in discussion raises one question: what were the long-term effects of repealing Net Neutrality, if any?
Before going into any detail regarding the consequences of repealing Net Neutrality, it is essential to understand what the rules did while in effect. The overarching purpose of the rules was to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging more for certain content, or from giving preferential treatment to certain websites. An example of such treatment could be making some websites faster and easier to access than others, or even blocking sites entirely. In other words, this law prevented ISPs, like Comcast or AT&T, from providing benefits to what would often be the highest bidder - or at least that is what Net Neutrality activists argued.
To its supporters, Net Neutrality was a concrete rule that protected the Internet as a haven for free enterprise. If it were removed, they argue, ISPs would have the ultimate authority in what content becomes accessible. This would mean that websites could essentially pay the ISPs in exchange for preferential treatment, leaving sites with less cash flow in the dust. For example, CNN or FOX News could utilize their monstrous revenue, ultimately crowding out non-profit news organizations like NPR.
It goes without question that ISPs selling out and providing preferential treatment to the top bidders is a worrisome thought, but it has been three years since the repeal of Net Neutrality and the discussion around it seems to have come to a halt, at least on the national scale. If people have stopped talking about it at large, is Net Neutrality as important as everyone made it out to be?
Well, it’s quite complicated.
There have been instances where ISPs have been discovered to be providing some discriminatory treatment to certain sites, such as Sprint throttling traffic to Skype, which was their competitor at the time. However, Net Neutrality has not disappeared out of the United States entirely.
Individual states have taken it upon themselves to enact their own versions of Net Neutrality legislation, thus circumventing the need for a broad, federal mandate.
These states include:
For more specific details regarding each state’s version of Net Neutrality laws, you can read more here.
On a national level, the repeal of Net Neutrality has widely gone under the radar. This, however, does not mean it is unimportant. Only a mere handful of states have passed legislation like Net Neutrality, and even then, they are not as thorough as the original law. In addition to this, ISPs have been caught in instances of providing the same preferential treatment that activists feared would happen. While the battle for a nationwide Net Neutrality bill has been ongoing for a lengthy amount of time, it is necessary to securing a safer and freer Internet environment.