You’ve probably heard and read about “net neutrality” more in recent weeks. That’s because the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been considering rescinding net neutrality regulations that require Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all legal Internet data the same, regardless of where it comes from or who it is going to.
One way to think of net neutrality is like an on-ramp to the Internet, where ISPs can’t interfere with where users want to go. Under current, Obama-era net neutrality regulations, ISPs are not allowed to slow down websites or applications, such as those of their competitors. If the FCC rolls back those regulations, some warn that the result could be an Internet that operates very differently from what we experience today.
For example, ISPs could offer streaming services like Netflix or YouTube the opportunity to pay to reach users at faster speeds during certain times of the day. Or, customers who use certain subscribers, like AT&T or Comcast, would get faster connections to websites like HBO or Facebook, for instance.
Proponents of net neutrality regulations also argue that, without regulations, the U.S. Internet will operate like it does in countries such as Guatemala, for example. There, mobile plans allow users to only access certain apps without cutting into their data plans. In response, residents often have two SIM cards, one that allows them to access Facebook for free, and on another that provides free access to WhatsApp. Once users’ data is used, sites like Facebook and WhatsApp are still accessible, but not the rest of the internet. When users try to access other websites or apps, they are prompted to pay more. Proponents of rolling back regulations argue that fewer regulations would result in ISPs making investments that would provide better and faster online access. Whatever the FCC decides, both sides on the net neutrality debate acknowledge that users’ Internet experiences will be affected.
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