What happens without net neutrality?
Free Press, an organization that is aggressive in its defense of net neutrality, compiled a timeline of net neutrality violations. These include blocking voice-over-IP services, redirecting search traffic, slowing of traffic, throttling all streaming traffic except to one specific site, and more. While net neutrality has been a term since 2003, and the current rules enforcing it were put in place in 2015, ISPs have tried to work around it for years, and sometimes succeeded, only to be caught later.
Without rules that allow the FCC to enforce net neutrality at the start, violations will have to be reported to the FTC instead, which can investigate and pursue legal action after-the-fact, but cannot preempt abuses.
The most-durable worry about a net without neutrality is the creation of “slow lanes,” where the ISP delivers traffic from some sites at normal speed, and from other sites at much slower speeds. If a site is loads too slowly, users likely won’t keep going there, so the loss of neutrality becomes a way for ISPs to force sites to pay for normal delivery or risk low traffic and eventually obsolescence. This fear was at the heart of the 2014 Internet Slowdown, a protest that asked sites to put a “loading” symbol, and then directed users to contact Congress and ask it to protect net neutrality.
We need not look only to protest for evidence of a what happens without Net neutrality. In December 2016, the FCC reported it was investigating AT&T for a Sponsored Data program, that exempted AT&T affiliate video from customer’s data limits but applied those limits to other data. On January 11th, 2017, the FCC reported a similar investigation into Verizon’s “FreeBee Data 360” program. In both cases, the internet providers made a choice for their customers: Use the video services we like at a discount, or pay full price for other data. That’s antithetical to the principles of net neutrality, and shortly before leaving his post, then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler sent a letter to prominent senators, informing them of the state of play in the investigations and thanking them for unwavering support of an open internet.