The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Tuesday that it was planning a vote in December that could roll back rules regarding net neutrality that were put in place by the Obama administration. Net neutrality is a system by where all data coursing through the internet is created equal, and service providers can’t prioritize certain data over others.
As reported by Business Insider, net neutrality advocates argue that the rules ensure everyone is operating on a level playing field, but service providers are generally against the regulations, as it requires them to adhere to specific restrictions.
While the full impact of reversing the net neutrality rules in the US won’t be seen until it happens, which many consider likely based on the current Republican majority in the FCC, Portugal can be viewed as an example regarding what’s to come.
Meo, a wireless carrier in Portugal, offers plan structures that aren’t currently seen in the US. Users pay for their initial data package and then must select add-ons based on the apps they want to use. Each add-on supplies additional data for those specific apps.
The concern doesn’t lie only in the presence of add-ons themselves, but also in the structure of the packages, specifically which apps are included, which ones aren’t, and what that could mean for users and companies who provide their services online.
For example, a video bundle could include Netflix but not Hulu. This may encourage users to drop Hulu and rely on Netflix instead, solely based on the structure of the package.
In theory, without net neutrality, large companies could pay internet providers for preferential treatment and access, which may stymie their competition and prevent smaller startups from being able to gain traction.
In fact, if the rules are rolled back, an internet service provider could stop you from using a particular app or site entirely, unless you’re willing to pay an additional fee to gain access.
Additionally, ISPs could completely block a site for nearly any reason, including because it belongs to a competitor or because they don’t like the site’s political stance, or throttle it to the point where it is essentially unusable in the eyes of customers.
Portugal isn’t entirely unencumbered when it comes to net neutrality, as they are still bound by the larger European Union’s rules. But various loopholes have allowed them to create pricing schemes such as Meo’s.
However, the US does not fall under any other ruleset besides its own, so the FCC decisions may bring about situations that would not be permissible in Portugal today.