Net Neutrality? Not even!

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I used to have a Comcast internet/TV/Phone package.  Over a period of a year, I gradually shaved off pieces of it to save money.  First the phone service, switching it for a custom Google Voice service that costs pennies to run (I don’t use home phone that often anyway, so it costs about what it’s worth).  Second, I swapped Comcast’s cable modem for my own, saving about $12 a month in leasing fees.  Finally, I switched to Playstation Vue for TV, leaving only the internet service.

This was a few months after Comcast instituted data cap penalties.  I mention that because one week into the month after I switched off the TV service, I started to get threats from Comcast that I was already over my data cap, and that to avoid penalty fees, I should add uncapped service to my internet for $50/month more.

Two things were significant about that.  One, I had been testing Playstation Vue for two months before I disconnected TV service, in case it didn’t pan out, and I didn’t get a single data cap warning.  And two, presumably, I started getting that warning so I would call Comcast, and they would politely inform me that if I re-activated my TV service at this special price, it would cost less than the uncapped internet service.  Instead, I switched to Brighthouse (now Spectrum) internet and kept on streaming.

That was just a taste of what will most likely happen once the FCC votes to deregulate the wired internet industry.  They are not simply voting to remove the Net Neutrality rules; they are voting to deregulate the industry entirely.  ISP’s like Comcast will be free to make up their own rules, and customers will be forced to abide by them with no recourse other than the courts to protect them.

It’s easy to predict the immediate effects of that – immediate as in within a few months of the rule change.

The first change will be that every ISP will have data caps with penalties and/or uncapped service fees.  The net result will be that those of us embracing the future and streaming our TV over the internet will have to pay much higher rates than those subscribing to a TV/internet/phone package.  That’s the primary aim, after all.

Second, using your own hardware for internet or TV won’t be allowed anymore.  In order to get Comcast service, you will have to use their modem.  And you still have to pay $12 a month (or more) for it.  To get TV service, you will have to pay for their boxes.

And the third thing you’ll see almost right away will be that services they consider non-essential will be blocked at the “home” level of service.  If you use VOIP, you won’t be able to get that service anywhere except through the ISP.  If you use remote control services like Back to my Mac, Splashtop, Teamviewer, SSH, SFTP, those will be blocked, because the “average” home user doesn’t use those.  You will be forced to upgrade to Business Class at nearly double the price.  And they will get away with it, because us “power users” will be cast as people who abuse the network, and take bandwidth away from home users.

Eventually fees may even be added to customer bills for access to outside email, streaming music, or streaming video.  The overall goal of this deregulation is to free up ISP’s to do everything they can to keep you within their own ecosystem, and then raise prices.  They won’t outright block you because they would lose customers.  But customers will, sadly, accept a few dollars a month more for access to things they used to get for free.

You will also see contracts become more common, up to 2 or 3 years.  ISP’s want the freedom to change pricing structures rapidly while keeping customers locked in.  Without FCC protection, customers locked into contracts can’t do anything but pay those higher rates, unless they can afford to fight it out in court.

I say all of this as if it’s a virtual certainty, because it may be.  The cable companies and ISP’s have worked for decades, and shelled out tons of money to take control of the FCC.  A very large portion of its board are now have some financial or direct relationship with those very companies they’re supposed to regulate.  Of course the regulation was bound to fall apart.

We can petition Congress to do something about it, but that’s going to be a hard fought battle.  There is a lot of money behind making this happen, and there isn’t nearly enough outrage against it.  Just turn on any news channel, or visit any news web site.  There is nothing  about it, with perhaps the notable exception of Ars Technica.  And even if action is taken, it may be too little, too late.  The damage will already have been done. All we can do then is try and pick up the pieces.

What I’m personally hoping for is that the hubris behind the deregulation completely forgets that it’s also giving an open license to projects like Google Fiber to spread like wildfire, and for smaller fiber providers to merge and take on the giants.  I’m hoping they realize too late that they’ve created their own competition, and that they’ll be too slow to throw roadblocks up in their way.  It happened before; that’s the story of how T-Mobile became a giant in the mobile sector.  Maybe it’ll happen again.