Net Neutrality on the Chopping Block at New FCC

January 31, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Ajit Pai, Trump’s pick to head the FCC as Tom Wheeler steps down, has made no bones about his attitude toward Net Neutrality. “[It’s] days are numbered,” Pai said in previous press statements, adding that he plans to “take a weed whacker” to regulations that allegedly make life difficult for small business owners. However, in light of scandals like the Netflix vs Comcast “throttling wars” of recent quarters, iOS app developers and the tech community are anxious that dismantling Net Neutrality would be akin to dismantling “Obamacare” without a plan B. Specifically, that it would leave millions of Americans vulnerable to shakedowns by their providers, and accelerate the already rapid consolidation of Internet control in a few mega-corporations — with a new mega-merger seemingly passing every year, resulting in even less choice for American Internet users.

The latest move by the FCC on this issue is to scale back current transparency rules, which require providers of all sizes to submit information on data caps, coverage, fees, and other industry standards. “Federal regulations have a disproportionate effect on small businesses — businesses that are often the linchpin of a more competitive marketplace and that don’t necessarily have compliance resources,” said Pai, suggesting that the move will ultimately help make smaller ISPs more competitive in the tech landscape. If passed, Pai’s proposal will make submitting such information voluntary for providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers.

While small Internet providers and at-home Internet subscribers are the obvious groups to be affected by these changes, the biggest casualty—or winners—could be the small mobile startups who rely on Internet infrastructure to deliver their services.

On the plus side, increased competition among ISPs could improve and expand coverage in some areas, perhaps opening the playing field for smaller companies like Starry Wireless that strive to connect consumers who are otherwise “in the dark” on the other side of the digital divide. This is ultimately good for San Fran app developers and tech startups.

On the negative side, we could quickly enter a situation where ISPs get to charge individual companies for faster speeds. Bigger companies like Netflix might be able to pay the tolls and still survive, but a “pay to play” setup could easily lock out upstart companies.

The mobile tech industry is famously fast-paced, and part of the reason for that is the affordability of joining the game. Will tech advance as quickly, when the prices to start a company match or exceed those of brick-and-mortar business models?

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