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What the ‘net neutrality’ rollback means for you

After a meeting with the right to vote until the end of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai answers a question from a reporter, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Now that the federal government has reversed internet protection it two years ago, the big question is: What does the repeal of ‘net neutrality’ rules mean for you?

In the short term, the answer is simple: Not much. But over time, your ability to watch what you want watch online and to make use of the apps that you prefer to could change.

Your mobile service provider, for example, would start with offering you great deals for the signature of its own video service, as well as your YouTube app starts suffering unexpected connection errors. Or you can have the heating on one day to learn that your broadband provider is having a tiff with Amazon, and has delayed his shops site in order to extract business concessions.

All that would be perfectly legal according to the new deregulatory regime approved Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission, as long as the companies post their policies online. Broadband providers insist they are not to do anything that is harmful for the “internet experience” for consumers.

WHAT HAPPENED

On Thursday, the FCC repealed Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, junking the old principle that all internet traffic must be treated equally. The move means a radical departure from more than a decade of federal supervision.

The major telecommunications companies had lobbied hard to overturn the rules, because they are heavy on the hand and discourage investment in broadband networks.

“What is the FCC doing today?” asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican. “Very simple, we are the repair of the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.”

Under the new rules, approved Thursday, companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T could slow down or block the access to the services that they do not want. They could also charge higher costs to rivals and make them pay for a higher transmission speeds, or “fast lanes” to their favorite services — turn, with everyone to “slow lanes.”

Those possibilities have stirred fears among consumer advocates, Democrats, a lot of web companies and ordinary Americans worried that the cable and telephone giants will be able to determine what people see and do online.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

In the short term, experts are of the opinion that the providers stay on their best behavior. In part, that is inevitable because of the legal challenges to the FCC’s action will keep the spotlight on them.

Public interest groups such as Free Press and Public Knowledge have said that they will be involved in a judicial procedure against the rules of Pai. The New York attorney general vowed to lead a multistate lawsuit; the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Washington state also announced plans to sue.

“The fact that the President of Pai went through with this, a policy that is so unpopular is quite shocking,” says Mark Stanley, a spokesman for the civil liberties organization Demand Progress. “Unfortunately, not surprising.”

Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said he would introduce legislation to overturn the FCC action , restoring the previous net-neutrality rules. That move, however, could be faced with the tough opposition, given the fact that Republicans in both houses of Congress.

AS SOON AS THE KLIEG LIGHT FADE

Things can be different in the assumption that the rules survive legal and legislative challenges.

AT&T senior executive vice-president Bob Quinn said in a blog post that the internet “will continue tomorrow just as it always is.” Like other broadband providers, AT&T said that it does not block websites, and not to squeeze or degrading online traffic on the basis of the content.

But such things have happened. The Associated Press in 2007 found Comcast was blocking some file-sharing services. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services that competed with its voice-call business — from the iPhone to 2009.

Thursday’s rule change also eliminates some federal consumers, bars laws that are inconsistent with the FCC approach, and largely transfers oversight of the internet service to another agency with relatively little experience in the telecommunications policy, the Federal Trade Commission.

Angelo Zino, an analyst at CFRA Research, said he expects AT&T and Verizon, the biggest beneficiaries, as the two internet giants can now give preference to movies, TV shows and other videos or music that they offer to the viewers. That could hurt rivals such as Sling TV, Amazon, YouTube, or startups, yet to be born.

This story originally appeared in the Associated Press.

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