How a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could shape the in­ter­net

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

NEW YORK: Un­der a Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, ca­ble and phone com­pa­nies could gain new power to in­flu­ence what you do and what you watch on­line - not to men­tion how much pri­vacy you have while you’re at it.

Many ex­perts say that Repub­li­cans who gen­er­ally op­pose reg­u­la­tion are likely to take charge at the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, the gov­ern­ment’s pri­mary tele­com reg­u­la­tor. That alone could mean the end of rules de­signed to pro­tect pri­vacy and in­di­vid­ual choice on the in­ter­net. Those rules were en­acted over the past sev­eral years un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der Trump, “the FCC will be a lot more fo­cused on get­ting gov­ern­ment out of the way,” said Berin Szoka, pres­i­dent of TechFree­dom, a think tank that op­poses much reg­u­la­tion. Phone and ca­ble com­pa­nies rou­tinely protest that reg­u­la­tion lead them to in­vest less in their net­works, harm­ing their abil­ity to de­liver bet­ter ser­vice.

Dereg­u­la­tion raises con­cerns for con­sumer ad­vo­cates not just in terms of rolling back rules, but also po­ten­tially al­low­ing more huge merg­ers, which sev­eral an­a­lysts ex­pect de­spite Trump’s cam­paign swipes at big me­dia. Un­der the com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion, a laxer FCC could re­sult in even higher ca­ble and in­ter­net bills, worse cus­tomer ser­vice and fewer choices, says Harold Feld, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at pub­lic -in­ter­est group Pub­lic Knowl­edge.

Of course, it’s dif­fi­cult to know ex­actly what to ex­pect, given Trump’s aver­sion to pol­icy specifics and fre­quent re­ver­sals dur­ing the cam­paign. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Trump’s tran­si­tion team didn’t re­ply to re­quests for com­ment.

Net neu­tral­ity

One pos­si­ble first tar­get: Rules that aim to pro­tect in­di­vid­ual choice and in­no­va­tion on the in­ter­net.

Sup­pose that fir­ing up Netflix or YouTube led only to de­lays and stut­ter­ing play­back that still counted against the lim­ited data in your broad­band plan - a sharp con­trast to the speedy video app of­fered by your phone or ca­ble com­pany, which in­curs no data costs. That’s one sce­nario the Obama-era FCC sought to ward off with “net neu­tral­ity” reg­u­la­tion that re­quires in­ter­net providers to treat all data traf­fic equally on their net­works, as the in­ter­net has his­tor­i­cally worked.

With­out net neu­tral­ity, your ac­cess to many pop­u­lar ser­vices might be de­graded by your lo­cal ca­ble or phone com­pany. Star­tups could have trou­ble de­liv­er­ing new video or vir­tual-re­al­ity ser­vices. Com­pa­nies that pro­vide in­ter­net ser­vice could find it eas­ier to push their own op­tions in­stead.

The net-neu­tral­ity rules are pop­u­lar, so they’re not likely to com­pletely dis­ap­pear un­der Trump. But the FCC might well be more re­strained in en­forc­ing them.

In­ter­net providers could use sub­tle tac­tics and be­hind-the-scenes ma­neu­vers to change peo­ple’s be­hav­ior and make more money, sug­gested Matt Wood, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the pub­lic-in­ter­est group Free Press. Con­sumers might even­tu­ally find that they have fewer ser­vices to choose from on­line, or that us­ing them is more dif­fi­cult or ex­pen­sive.

Pri­vacy, open­ness and in­ter­net ac­cess

If the Trump FCC whacks away at ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions, ca­ble and phone com­pa­nies are go­ing to find it a lot eas­ier to mine your brows­ing habits and other in­for­ma­tion for data they can use to tar­get ads at you.

Ver­i­zon, for ex­am­ple, is ea­ger to build a dig­i­tal-ad busi­ness to com­pete with Google and Face­book. But re­cent pri­vacy rules force them to ask cus­tomers for per­mis­sion be­fore us­ing their data. Those com­pa­nies have made no se­cret of their dis­like for this re­quire­ment.

The FCC’s ef­fort to “open up” the ca­ble box in ways de­signed to give you more op­tions for hook­ing up TVs and stream­ing gad­gets to ca­ble ser­vice is likely dead. Its ef­fort to sub­si­dize in­ter­net for low-in­come peo­ple may face bud­get cuts, al­though ca­ble com­pa­nies do of­fer sep­a­rate cheap in­ter­net op­tions for low-in­come peo­ple.

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