Net Neutrality Repeal Will Harm Consumers

If you like how your cable and satellite service works, then you’re going to love the internet after the Federal Communications Commission votes to end net neutrality protections on Dec. 14.

Dec 13, 2017 at 10:21 am

If you like how your cable and satellite service works, then you’re going to love the internet after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) votes to end net neutrality protections on Dec. 14. 

That’s because your broadband internet service providers (ISPs) will no longer be common carriers that have to deliver all lawful content and services. Instead, ISPs will be able to act like cable and satellite TV providers that decide which content, services and apps its customers receive.

Why is this happening? Look no further than who is leading the FCC and who is lobbying for the change. President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, to head the FCC. As chairperson, Pai has done the bidding of Verizon and the other major cable and satellite service providers across the U.S., including Spectrum, Comcast, Charter and AT&T, which owns DirecTV.

These companies want to treat their broadband internet customers the same way they treat subscribers to their cable and satellite TV service by bundling content and services and adding more fee structures.

Cable and satellite subscribers are well acquainted with bundles, as they require you to purchase channels you don’t want in order to get the channels you do. While consumer groups have advocated for cable and satellite providers to offer TV channels on an à la carte basis for years, the bundled packages allow service providers to have more control over the market for certain networks. While several “cord-cutters” have circumvented cable program bundles by subscribing to internet-based streaming services such as Netlflix and Amazon video, that will most likely change once net neutrality protections go away. Your ISP will be able to bundle internet content and services, just like they do cable channels, and for an extra fee (of course).

For example, consider how ISPs in other countries that don’t recognize net neutrality protections, such as Portugal, are able to bundle popular internet services. Customers pay their ISP to access the internet and then an additional fee to access different bundles of popular content and services, such as YouTube, Hulu, Amazon or PayPal.

What is worse is that customers may also have to pay those same services separately, and those subscription fees are likely to go up, as content and service providers pass the extra cost of doing business with ISPs on to their own customers. Not coincidentally, I just received an email message from Netflix that my bill will go up effective Dec. 28 — two weeks after the FCC’s expected vote to kill net neutrality protections.

How will cable and satellite TV service operators get away with this? They do it by creating a two-sided market for themselves, as subscribers pay their service provider (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) to access to the internet, and then the service provider takes those same customers and markets them to content and service producers online (Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, etc.). Both the internet user and the content provider have to pay the same entity (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) to access each other.

Not happy with being saddled with the extra cost of doing business, some of the most popular internet content providers and services, such as Amazon, Netflix, Google, Apple and Facebook, have backed net neutrality protections. Small businesses and entrepreneurs who rely on the current low cost of entry for an online presence also stand to lose after Dec. 14, as they can be forced to negotiate expensive carriage agreements with the largest broadband ISPs, or risk having their website, streaming services and apps degraded or blocked altogether if they happen to compete with similar content and services offered by ISPs.

And, speaking of carriage agreements, cable and satellite TV subscribers know all too well what happens when the service providers and networks are in dispute over carriage arrangement — customers lose access to programming through no fault of their own. Earlier this year, Cincinnati’s DirecTV customers lost access to NBC programming when Hearst’s WLWT-TV was negotiating its carriage agreement with the satellite operator. DirecTV customers in Cincinnati were similarly deprived of FOX programming on Raycom’s WXIX-TV in September 2014 while the broadcaster and satellite operator quarreled over carriage arrangements. Now, imagine not being able to access Netflix while its negotiating carriage with your ISP.

To its credit, Cincinnati Bell has issued several statements on Twitter that it will treat all traffic the same for its customers, even after the FCC ends net neutrality. While this is a principled position to take, the company will have no legal obligation to keep this pledge.

While the FCC is certain to role back net neutrality protections this week, all is not necessarily lost. Congress has the authority to amend, repeal or replace any FCC rule, and can require the agency to enforce any legislation that it creates. After Dec. 14 it will be time for internet users, small businesses and entrepreneurs to petition Congress for a redress of net neutrality protections.

Additionally, proponents of net neutrality can continue to petition their ISPs to protect net neutrality, just as several protesters did last week by demonstrating outside of a Verizon store in Kenwood.

The telecommunications industry is sure to continue to push back with its hollow platitudes about net neutrality somehow being a “big-government takeover of the internet.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Net neutrality is about protecting the rights of all internet users, and not allowing a few powerful ISPs to dominate content and services.

However, if you’re still convinced that its better to have big-telecomm control the internet rather than any government-supported net neutrality protections, and my cable/satellite analogy isn’t working for you, ask yourself this: How has the Airline Deregulation Act affected your experience on commercial flights? More fees, less service and no rights. Welcome to the internet without net neutrality protections.

Jeffrey Layne Blevins, Ph.D., is a CityBeat opinion contributor and head of the Journalism Department at the University of Cincinnati. Contact: [email protected] or @JeffBlevinsPhD.