Today, the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality is scheduled to take effect, meaning that soon, internet service providers could legally have the ability to throttle your access to content online, charge you more to access certain sites or slow down others entirely. While this sounds like dark days for the internet, there’s still hope.
But first, let’s back up. You’ve likely seen the issue in headlines, but you may still be wondering: What exactly is net neutrality? What does it mean for your access to the internet? And why are some internet providers still fighting to save it?
For answers to these questions and more, we’ve turned to Dane Jasper, CEO of California's largest independent service provider, Sonic.
Q: What is net neutrality?
A: For starters, net neutrality is a set of laws that protect consumers from being unfairly charged for the content they watch or stream on the internet. But it’s not just that; it’s a collection of fair and just guiding principles that protect consumers and stimulate competition. Think of it this way: When we use the internet, we expect that we can access any content freely, whenever and however we want. In short, we expect our internet traffic to be treated with neutrality.
This basic principle protects our rights to equal access to all legal content and applications on the internet. In the same way we all have equal access to basic utilities like water and electricity, the previous rules prohibited internet service providers (AT&T, Comcast) from charging content providers (Netflix, Hulu, CNET) more money for faster lanes or slowing down access to companies or content that are not able or willing to pay higher fees.
Without net neutrality, internet service providers now have the power to charge Netflix, Hulu, CNET and other content creators more money to stream their services or block others entirely.
Q: Why do consumers need net neutrality?
A: If internet providers can charge sites for usage, speed, and latency, small internet providers won’t be able to compete alongside conglomerates. Because of this, you're likely to see less innovative, new applications and services on the internet. In other words, the next breakthrough start-up might not happen, or it might charge twice the price for its service due to the toll it’s paying the internet service provider. And this isn't just about streaming video—any site, service, or internet connected device, like virtual reality, augmented reality, or a new technology that has yet to be invented, could be affected by the undoing of net neutrality.
Q: A lot of the larger ISPs are fighting against neutrality, but some smaller ISPs are fighting for neutrality. Why are some smaller ISPs, like Sonic, fighting to save it?
A: Sonic has always been an outspoken supporter of net neutrality and consumer privacy protections. We believe that a fair and open internet is a healthy internet. Policies that protect competition, like net neutrality, have helped Sonic bring better, faster, and more affordable internet to America—despite facing an industry largely dominated by two major players. And it’s our job as an internet provider, now more than ever, to stand up for consumer rights online.
Q: How might the end of net neutrality impact Sonic?
Ultimately, the deregulation of net neutrality could reduce competition in the internet marketplace.
Here’s an example: A competitive internet provider could now sell your browsing history to advertisers for $5 and charge you $5/month to stream Netflix at faster speeds. On the contrary, Sonic pledges never to sell your personal information or charge you more to access certain sites. As a result, the money some internet providers will potentially make from those additional revenue sources may tilt the playing field and make it harder for Sonic to compete on price.
Regardless, we at Sonic will remain committed to running a neutral network and protecting our members’ privacy.
Q: Won’t the market just self correct for a neutral internet?
A: You might think that if one service provider begins throttling and limiting access to sites, their customers would just leave and turn to their competitor, right? But the truth is, more than 50 percent of households in America have only one "choice" for internet access at 25Mbps or above. As such, these consumers will not have an alternative net neutral internet provider to turn to.
Q: What can you do to help protect access to a fair and open internet?
A: You still have a choice; you can choose to stand up for your rights online by supporting businesses, and ISPs that continue to enforce the principles that net neutrality was founded on. And you can tell your friends, family, and anyone who will listen to support them, too.
The more members we have, the faster we can expand the Sonic network!
Q: What is Sonic doing to protect net neutrality?
A: Sonic has been partnering with neutral internet supporters, writing letters to congress, and vocalizing our stance on net neutrality (and privacy protections!) since the beginning. Most recently, Sonic signed a letter in support of Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 822, which would reinstate net neutrality protections in California and prevent ISPs from engaging in practices that are inconsistent with a fair and open internet.
As an internet provider and advocate for our consumers, we are continuing to build competitive access to network coverage, allowing more consumers access to a net neutral internet. We’re also pressuring competitive providers to improve their policies, or watch their clients flee, by expanding our network and giving more consumers a neutral alternative.