FutureFive New Zealand - Consumer technology news & reviews from the future
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The dystopian future of the internet
Thu, 4th Jul 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Most of us don't think too much about how our latest Google search, Netflix binge or Skype chat end up on our computer screens. This could become a thing of the past if net neutrality is lost.

With this in mind, TheBestVPN.com have created an interactive simulation where you can experience for yourself what an internet without net neutrality could look like.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that all information on the internet should be equally accessible. The basis of net neutrality is that all web traffic should be treated the same by internet service providers (ISP).

Without net neutrality, an ISP could control what users see online, and how quickly they can access specific types of content.

Why does it matter?

At present, new start-ups and giants like Google have an equal playing field at the point of delivery. In theory, ISPs could charge some companies more to use a ‘fast lane'. This would give them an edge in terms of how they deliver online content. If these companies refused to pay a premium, ISPs could be free to throttle their services.

They might also be able to go against some of the core principles of net neutrality:

  • Block types of connection device - so they can force users to use a specific type of Wi-Fi router, rather than a third-party one.
  • Block types of connected device - so they could pick and choose what types of PC, smartphone, games console can and cannot connect to their internet service.
  • Show favouritism to certain types of traffic - even to specific websites.
  • Limit protocols - to stop entrepreneurs setting up their own competing internet businesses.
  • Block or limit services - such as music streaming or video streaming.
  • Snoop on data - and potentially use it/ sell it for advertising.
  • Modify data - change or delete what users have written online etc.

A lack of net neutrality could also mean:

  • Higher prices for consumers at peak times.
  • Higher costs to service providers pushed on to consumers, resulting in more expensive video/music streaming subscriptions for example.
  • The quality of content could lower in order to accommodate pushier ISPs, especially for smaller streaming companies.
  • In the long term, less competition would mean less incentive for the established internet giants to improve what they offer the consumer.

ISPs could theoretically accept requests by service providers to block specific competitors in exchange for payment. Facebook and Airbnb are good examples of start-ups that have benefited from a neutral net - the next big thing might not succeed if the playing field is altered in favour of the existing corporations.

Numerous ISPs are also service providers themselves, for example, AT-T has previously attempted to block Skype and FaceTime in order to aid their mobile phone services.

Most of the world's big internet companies are US based, so this would affect internet users across the world not just in the US.

It's worth noting that the counter-argument is that if a particular ISP abuses their power on an ‘open' net, users could theoretically switch provider. However, this is often hard to do, especially in rural areas and where one ISP has a monopoly on infrastructure.

Why is it under attack?

In 2015, under the Obama administration, the principle of net neutrality was enshrined into US law.

In 2017 this was repealed under the Trump administration.

The University of Maryland polled a representative sample of Americans in December 2017. To ensure an unbiased response, it prepared respondents ahead of time with briefings on both sides of the argument. It found that 83 per cent of Americans did not approve of the FCC's proposal to repeal net neutrality.

Big ISPs in America have a history of attempting to get around net neutrality before.

Commenting on the simulation, TheBestVPN.com's co-founder, Rob Mardisalu said, “Essentially, our tool explores the worst-case scenario for internet users: they're penny-and-dimed at every turn, reduced to visiting only four websites, forced to share their browsing habits, and only given news written by AI bots.

“This might sound dystopian, but since the repeal, it is increasingly likely.

“It's only been a year since the rules lapsed, so there is still hope that our dire predictions will never come to pass. Let's hope we're wrong. The future of the internet depends on it.