Your in­ter­net use could change as ‘net neu­tral­ity’ ends

Yuma Sun - - OBITUARIES -

NEW YORK — Your abil­ity to watch and use your fa­vorite apps and ser­vices could start to change — though not right away — fol­low­ing the of­fi­cial demise Mon­day of Obama-era in­ter­net pro­tec­tions.

Any changes are likely to hap­pen slowly, as com­pa­nies as­sess how much con­sumers will tol­er­ate.

The re­peal of “net neu­tral­ity” took ef­fect six months af­ter the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion voted to undo the rules, which had barred broad­band and cell­phone com­pa­nies from fa­vor­ing their own ser­vices and dis­crim­i­nat­ing against ri­vals such as Net­flix.

In­ter­net providers such as AT&T, Ver­i­zon and Com­cast had to treat all traf­fic equally. They couldn’t slow down or block web­sites and apps of their choos­ing. Nor could they charge Net­flix and other video ser­vices ex­tra to reach view­ers more smoothly. The rules also barred a broad­band provider from, say, slow­ing down Ama­zon’s shop­ping site to ex­tract busi­ness con­ces­sions.

Now, all that is le­gal as long as com­pa­nies post their poli­cies on­line.

The change comes as broad­band and cell­phone providers ex­pand their ef­forts to de­liver video and other con­tent to con­sumers.

With net neu­tral­ity rules gone, AT&T and Ver­i­zon can give pri­or­ity to their own movies and TV shows, while hurt­ing ri­vals such as Ama­zon, YouTube and star­tups yet to be born.

The bat­tle isn’t en­tirely over, though. Some states are mov­ing to re­store net neu­tral­ity, and law­suits are pend­ing. Also, the Se­nate voted to save net neu­tral­ity, though that ef­fort isn’t likely to be­come law.

For now, broad­band providers in­sist they won’t do any­thing that would harm the “in­ter­net ex­pe­ri­ence” for con­sumers. Most cur­rently have service terms that spec­ify they won’t give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to cer­tain web­sites and ser­vices, in­clud­ing their own.

How­ever, com­pa­nies are likely to drop these self-im­posed re­stric­tions; they will just wait un­til peo­ple aren’t pay­ing a lot of at­ten­tion, said Marc Martin, a for­mer FCC staffer who is now chair­man of com­mu­ni­ca­tions prac­tice at the law firm Perkins Coie. Any changes now, while the spot­light is on net neu­tral­ity, could lead to a pub­lic re­la­tions back­lash.

Com­pa­nies are likely to start test­ing the boundaries over the next six months to a year. Ex­pect to see more of­fers like AT&T’s ex­emp­tion of its DirecTV Now stream­ing TV service from cus­tomers’ mo­bile data lim­its. Ri­val ser­vices like Sling TV and Net­flix count video against data caps, es­sen­tially mak­ing them more ex­pen­sive to watch.

Al­though the FCC is­sued a report in Jan­uary 2017 say­ing such ar­range­ments, known as “zero rat­ing,” are prob­a­bly anti-con­sumer, the agency did not re­quire com­pa­nies to change their prac­tices right away. Af­ter Pres­i­dent Donald Trump ap­pointed a new chair­man to the FCC, the agency re­versed its stance on zero rat­ing and pro­ceeded to kill net neu­tral­ity.

Crit­ics of net neu­tral­ity, in­clud­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, say such rules im­peded com­pa­nies’ abil­ity to adapt to a quickly evolv­ing in­ter­net.

But con­sumer ad­vo­cates say that the re­peal is just pan­der­ing to big busi­ness and that ca­ble and phone gi­ants will now be free to block ac­cess to ser­vices they don’t like. They can also set up “fast lanes” for preferred ser­vices — in turn, rel­e­gat­ing ev­ery­one else to “slow lanes.” Tech com­pa­nies such as Net­flix, Spo­tify and Snap echoed sim­i­lar con­cerns in reg­u­la­tory fil­ings.

Martin said broad­band providers prob­a­bly won’t mess with ex­ist­ing ser­vices like Net­flix, as that could alien­ate con­sumers.

But they could start charging ex­tra for ser­vices not yet of­fered. For in­stance, they might charge more to view high-resolution “4K” video, while of­fer­ing low­erqual­ity video for free. The fees would be paid by the video ser­vices, such as Hulu, and could be passed along to con­sumers in higher sub­scrip­tion rates.

More than 20 states sued the gov­ern­ment to stop the re­peal, as did the pub­lic-in­ter­est group Free Press and the think tank Open Tech­nol­ogy In­sti­tute and Fire­fox browser maker Mozilla.

Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon now have their own net neu­tral­ity laws, and a bill is pend­ing in Cal­i­for­nia’s leg­is­la­ture.

That’s an­other rea­son com­pa­nies are likely to move slowly, at least at first.

“They don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” Martin said.


IN THIS DEC. 7, 2017 FILE PHOTO, DEMON­STRA­TORS RALLY IN SUP­PORT of net neu­tral­ity out­side a Ver­i­zon store in New York. Con­sumers aren’t likely to see im­me­di­ate changes af­ter Mon­day’s for­mal re­peal of Obama-era in­ter­net rules that had en­sured equal...

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