The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy — the greatest information equalizer of our time.
With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality.
What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.
What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet — the greatest collective trove of information in the world could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.
Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.
Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.
Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals’ Internet connections because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN and also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.
Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise people and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.