The Observer view on net neutrality

Screengrab of Ajit Pai's

Net neutrality backers have argued that clear rules are needed to prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling services or websites for competitive reasons. That was how, at the height of the 2014 primary season, the Republican presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, referred to the net neutrality rules proposed by the Obama administration.

US regulators voted on Thursday to roll back the so-called "net neutrality" rules, which required Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, a move opponents say would curb online freedom. Setting a awful example for the rest of the world, the FCC voted to allow internet providers to be able to privilege one form of content over another on the internet.

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By repealing net neutrality standards, the FCC has turned over control of the internet in the United States to private entities whose main interest is profit rather than open and equal access. Take for example Comcast, since they own NBCUniversal. Many content providers, like Apple and Google fear that ISPs will favor their own content providers, and force them to pay more to be viewed faster or even be seen by customers.

Opponents of repeal say the so-called toll lanes could squeeze out burgeoning startups, which don't have the money or influence to pay for faster content delivery.

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Scrapping net neutrality could make the already uncompetitive U.S. broadband market even less competitive. The deregulation could also result in people paying fees for better internet plans and services so they can access what they want at a faster pace.

In November, hundreds of companies, including tech companies Airbnb, Foursquare and Etsy, signed a letter to Pai urging the FCC to retain the net neutrality regulations.

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Net neutrality proponents usually acknowledge that such drastic impacts are unlikely to occur in the near term, but suggest that more subtle impacts, such as allowing certain sites to buy higher access speeds, could hurt competition and, in particular, small businesses and start ups. Others have warned that customer choice of internet service providers could shrink and prices of broadband service could increase.

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