From time to time, we report trends, news, and interesting things that effect consumers. We are worried about the bleak news about Net Neutrality rules being eliminated, a huge win for big businesses and loss for small businesses and deal-seekers.
What is Net Neutrality? Your connection provider to the Internet (cable modem, mobile/LTE wireless, fiber, whatever) are not allowed to pick favorites, block content, or make certain services unusable. Protections were put in place after connection providers (mobile companies, cable companies, etc) blocked content or made competing services (such as Netflix) unusable or slow. Without Net Neutrality: Fewer choices of services. Cost of services could rise. If Comcast makes a deal with Hulu, competing services like Netflix and YouTube could be slowed or blocked from Comcast customers. Some websites could be blocked. For example, we frequently post our opinions (negative and positive) about products we try, but if we say something that angers T-Mobile, they could retaliate by blocking our website from being seen by their customers. Small companies like ours could fight back through the legal system, but many will simply die off. Internet service providers would be able to take money to prioritize certain websites, making the non-paying websites load slowly. The US will join the small list of anti-Net Neutrality countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, and Slovenia. Some of these countries block critics and content, including: China blocks many websites & apps entirely, including Google, Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, github, DropBox, Slack, Sony, Flickr, Reuters, and NASA. Portugal's mobile Internet blocks the most popular Internet sites. Residents can un-block content by paying for them: Google, Yahoo, and search engines cost $5/mo to access. News sites like CNN, Digg, MSNBC, and Fox News cost $5/mo to access. Gaming websites cost $5/mo to access. Social media like Twitter and Facebook cost $5/mo to access. Shopping sites like Amazon, Newegg, PayPal, Ebay, and Overstock.com cost $5/mo to access. Streaming music sites like Last.FM, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunes, and eMusic cost $10/mo to access. Note, Europe (the EU) does have Net Neutrality of which Portugal should be bound by, but loopholes allow Portugal's mobile carrier to block sites using this pricing scheme and are being challenged by the EU. What happens if Internet providers slow (not block) certain sites? Google research shows visitors who wait more than 3 seconds for a mobile site to load will abandon their search 53% of the time. So, slowing sites is an effective way to cripple a site's traffic. Sites can die when they lose their users. Internet service providers like Verizon have slowed sites like Netflix before, partly a way to sell users more expensive services that should have actually worked on the low-cost Internet plans. This practice could become the norm. How this can effect finding and getting "deals": Small shopping sites like Blue Nile, BuyDig, Newegg, and Overstock may have fewer deals due to the rising cost of doing business on the Internet. TV service prices will go up. Consumers who replaced high-cost Cable television service with low-cost streaming video services may find the TV quality degrade. YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu TV, and Sling TV may struggle to offer high quality TV service if your Internet provider wants to compete for your TV watching business. Apps that offer free voice and video services may be forced to pay fees, and thus, may no longer offer free services. Companies who cannot afford streaming "tolls" may die. Many small businesses who market through social media, websites, and cheap online advertising could lose their low-cost advertising options. Opportunities for new innovations in the US, such as streaming TV and video conferencing, may be shrink. Less innovation can mean fewer options and higher prices. For example, a cheap personal trainer app that provides live video workouts may struggle to survive if cable and mobile services throttle or disable the streaming video feature. Reference sites & services that are currently free, like Wikipedia and Google Maps, could be forced to charge customers for access on certain Internet networks. Websites, like this one, may work for some people, and stop working for others. So, fewer choices and higher prices.
If the current news holds its course, Net Neutrality will be eliminated by the end of the year (around Christmas).
We Americans use the Internet in every aspect of our lives. We share videos & photos, engage with people through social media and calls, and love the freedom of shopping at whichever site gives us the best deals and which products have the best reviews. The Internet companies have, and will likely again, introduce politics into where we shop and how we communicate & get information, and that will likely lead to higher prices on everything.
On a positive note, The New York Times says 76% of Americans support Net Neutrality. Also, 99.7% of all businesses are small businesses, most of which are one-person operations that found a way to use digital tools to operate and grow their businesses. With so much of the US economy heavily invested on an open Internet, both consumers & companies are pushing on their elected officials to keep Net Neutrality in place. So, there is still hope.