Report: FCC is About to Dismantle Net Neutrality, Bad News for Gaming
According to reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, both citing unnamed sources, the Federal Communications Commission is about to reverse its stance on net neutrality and allow Internet service providers the ability to create service “fast lanes,” which will allow content in those lanes to be loaded faster and more easily than the rest of the Internet.
Basically, the idea is that ISPs will be able to negotiate with content providers, like Netflix, Xbox Live and GameFront, for access to preferential treatment for their content. Imagine Sony paying ISPs for faster download times to their users for the Playstation Network, while Microsoft opts not to — suddenly, PSN runs great and Xbox Live runs like crap, and Microsoft can’t compete with Sony unless it ponies up. The same can apply to streaming services and other companies. Net neutrality advocates have maintained for years that a divided Internet will be disastrous for the Internet economy, but it looks like we’re about to get it anyway.
According to The Wall Street Journal report, “The FCC’s proposal would allow some forms of discrimination while preventing companies from slowing down or blocking specific websites….” Just what that discrimination would be, however, isn’t clear.
The change could also a big problem for everyone on the Internet, as it’s going to mean a rise in the price of doing business for all kinds of services. Some that can’t foot the bill will likely go out of business; others will need to raise their prices to consumers, passing the cost on to you. It’s particularly problematic for gaming, since online play and digital distribution can take up a lot of bandwidth. With the rise in costs in order to maintain speedy access to content, expect gaming to be even more expensive, as you pay your ISP for access while content providers also pay your ISP for your access.
What’s particularly galling about the entire scenario is the fact that the FCC has been on the side of net neutrality for quite some time, and only recently began to flag. That started with the appointment of Tom Wheeler as head of the commission in November, 2013. Before that, he served as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, working for telecommunications interests like cable and cellular phone companies, for almost 40 years. He also managed hedge funds that specialized in investing in Internet protocol and telecom companies.
It hasn’t taken Wheeler long to adjust the FCC’s thinking, either — he was appointed by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate less than six months ago.
Net neutrality was already in a bit of hot water earlier this year after a U.S. appeals court had ruled against some of the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules as they applied to Internet service providers. The court’s ruling seemed likely to have the effect of driving the FCC to draft new regulations that would meet the court’s scrutiny; instead, it seems the FCC is going to abandon them altogether and pull a 180 on the idea of an open Internet.
After the appeals court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules, advocates used the White House’s website to create a petition pushing for new net neutrality rules to be created. The White House responded by reaffirming its commitment to net neutrality, but stated that the FCC is an independent agency. Wheeler himself wrote a blog post in January following the ruling, which attempted to allay fears people were expressing that the ruling would mean the eventual dismantling of the open Internet.
If the NYT and WSJ reports turn out to be true, it’ll be a dark day for the Internet at large. You can read more about Net Neutrality and the possible repercussions in the excellent post our Ross Lincoln wrote on the subject earlier this year, right here.