FCC Set to Abolish Net Neutrality in USA

George Boatfield explains what the latest battle for the internet means for gaming.

George Boatfield
4th December 2017
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Just when you think it had all gone away for a while, the debate around net neutrality is back rearing its ugly head. Of course, net neutrality itself is not the enemy here, but in fact beneficial to consumers. For the uninitiated, it ensures a fairer and more open internet that provides a level playing field for big business, small business and the individual user.

Although the bulk of discussion around it is taking place in America, actions taken by the US government could still signal change for the rest of the world. Back in 2015, a then democratically-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) labelled broadband as a ‘Title 2’, thus meaning US legislation currently classes it as a utility.

The introduction of data throttling or ‘fast lanes’ could potentially benefit one console brand over another

This prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from throttling data speeds and creating ‘fast lanes’ for specific websites and companies. There are fears that without this control, ISPs would throttle the speeds of services run by rival corporations to funnel consumers towards their own products. For example, users of the ISP Comcast would be funnelled to Hulu (owned by the same company) instead of Netflix.

The new Republican Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, wants to reverse this legislation. He argues that the market will decide what happens and that this will keep things fair for consumers. In a statement issued on the 14th November, Pai claimed: “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.” Approval of the plan to remove broadband’s utility classification could be put into effect as soon as the FCC’s next meeting on the 14th December.

Unfortunately, the market keeping options for consumers fair like Pai describes can’t happen when many American citizens can only choose between one or two ISPs, so changes to this legislation will make the effects of market monopolisation even more prominent. Consumers don’t have the power to decide where the market goes when the market is as limited as it currently is.

While this is bad for consumers who would have to pay more money to be upgraded to ‘fast lanes’ or instead alter the services they use, ISPs love the idea. It’s just one new way to get more money from both the consumer and rival companies, some of which may decide to pay the ‘fast lane’ charge on their end, absorbing the cost that their customers would otherwise have to pay.

Many other companies are opposed to the reversal of legislation. “The FCC’s net neutrality rules are working well for consumers, and we’re disappointed in the proposal released today,” Google said in a statement.

This is just a new way to make more money from consumers

In the world of video games where so many elements revolve around the internet, the loss of net neutrality could prove to be especially harmful. This starts with the extra costs of internet use for players on top of the existing fees for accessing online services through PS Plus or Xbox Live.

The introduction of data throttling or ‘fast lanes’, potentially even benefiting one console brand over another, would add additional unfairness to the current problems of people with poor connections being at a disadvantage in multiplayer games. Communities would become fragmented, video streaming functions would become less of a focus, and players would have a reduced general usage of consoles and engagement with the ecosystem.

Right now, most of the responsibility for preventing these changes lies with US citizens. Communities online have been providing resources that educate people on the best way to convey their disappointment to elected officials. The primary method for this is to telephone or write to members of Congress.

Right now, it’s looking likely that net neutrality could well be going away, but citizens can still make their voices heard until the Congress vote on the 14th December.

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