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Net Neutrality Dismantling Now in Sight

Headlines are scream things like: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to Reveal  Plans to Dismantle Obama-era Net Neutrality Rules Any Day! With this, we are reawakened from our slumber to a potential internet armageddon.

The action isn't surprising. Ajit Pai’s behaviour and the strident GOP stance is still stunning to contemplate. Meanwhile, the clock is approaching midnight for net neutrality.

The impending changes, which could take effect as early as next month, could fundamentally reshape the internet economy and upend the way consumers have traditionally operated online. The outrage and pushback have come from predictable places. Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, comments,

“There is simply no reasonable justification for repealing the net neutrality protections currently on the books. Consumers are paying for access to the entire internet, and [internet providers] should not be able to discriminate against websites and apps.”

Likely legal challenges to the rules rollback may delay the inevitable but probably won’t be able to derail the dismantling of net neutrality.

It would seem that an era of “paid prioritization” is at hand. The world will be watching carefully to see what the outcome will be. The advocates for retaining the present rules - the big companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, and consumer groups representing many millions of Americans - argue that such regulation is needed to curb the power of the broadband providers. They maintain that the innovation that came with an “open internet” will be thwarted. Proponents of Pai’s rules naturally claim the opposite to be true.

On the side of the rules rollback - the dismantling - are those who say the current environment of rigid rules can impede investment and innovation in a dynamic industry that historically has worked better without restraints. Another major concern of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and the traditionally anti-Big Government Republicans, is that the Obama-era rules would make eventual rate regulation and other cumbersome, counter-productive government oversight a reality.

Some specific areas that proponents of the rule changes point to include the ISPs being able to more aggressively pursue specialized services for medical customers and self-driving cars, both of which could be beneficiaries of the faster broadband speeds that they would gladly pay for.

The companies that would most benefit from the prosed rollback - the big ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter Communications - would see a huge window of opportunity opening. They could form alliances with content firms to serve up their webpages or video at higher speeds and quality. Such practices are blocked under the current rules.

These titans claim that if things go according to plan, they would have more flexibility to use bundles of services and creative pricing, which would make their favored content more attractive to most consumers. That at least is the hope. What is in question, and sometimes lost in all the high-stakes bickering, is how it will play out for the average internet user. Will they wind up paying more for less? Or will the innovative power of an unchained corporate America benefit them in the long run?

Maybe things won’t unfold as it appears they might for political reasons - Washington gamesmanship. Some FCC watchers believe Pai’s dismantling of the rules could be a ploy to bring Democrats to the table to negotiate a legislative solution to the debate. It will be interesting to see how it all unravels and if the rollback is actually implemented in December as advertised. Stay tuned.

Opinions are the writer's own.

Image credit: Federal Communications Commission/Flikr.com

Written by: Stan Ward

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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