What is net neutrality and what happens when it ends?

In short, Internet providers would have the power to determine how you access the internet.

On December 14, net neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration were overturned. The Federal Communications Commission voted to remove these regulations after Trump's appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed in May to remove the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) as public utilities. These rules were adopted in 2015. Should this be removed, ISPs would be able to charge more for customers to access the internet and different websites.

The economic effects of this action could be wide reaching. ISPs would have the ability to create what has been referred to as “fast lanes." Or boost traffic for certain websites while slowing others. As an example, AT&T; could allow you to easily stream Netflix, but slow speeds for Hulu — which might render the site useless on your home broadband wifi. Additionally, Netflix may have to pay extra cash to AT&T; to make sure their site runs properly on your wifi. And this extra cost would likely be passed down to the consumer in higher subscription fees.

Internet providers could also provide access packages similar to how your cable company does. Customers would have to pay a certain amount a month to access email and social media. But they could incur additional costs to gain access to news sites or video streaming services. Consumers could also face data caps similar to how phone plans currently work. With the popularity of cable companies on a steep downturn, it seems not many people would want these kinds of services from their internet providers.

Many supporters of the FCC's plan to remove net neutrality regulations argue that this is nothing to worry about. After all, these rules were only put in place in 2015. Before that, we still had the free and open internet we know today. Competition between different providers will show these companies what customers really want. Additionally, several internet providers (including AT&T; and Verizon) have already issued statements supporting an open internet in some way, shape or form.

In theory, competition would be a possible avenue for consumers to exploit. But that won't quite work in practice. This is because broadband internet providers have virtual monopolies set up around the country. In 55 percent of the United States, there is only one internet provider available. If you want internet, you have to go through that company. End of story. This leaves consumers without a lot of bargaining chips. And this situation likely won't change any time soon. It is prohibitively expensive to set up any kind of wired broadband network. Verizon spent $20 billion on its FIOS network and that only covered a few suburbs in the Northeast and Los Angeles. Without true competition, it will be hard for consumers to protest or refute their service.

If internet providers decide to create “fast lanes" or comprehensive packages similar to a cable provider, customers will have no choice but to pony up the extra cash. The internet is essentially required for all kinds of tasks from job searching to paying bills to shopping. Consumers might have to pay more just to access sites like Amazon or a portal used for job applications. These hurdles would cause customers to drastically change their behavior. Agree or disagree, removing net neutrality rules would cause massive ripples through society and the economy.

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