5 Major Ways the Internet Could Change Without Net Neutrality

The Internet could be wildly different without net neutrality, advocates say.

ByABC News
November 10, 2014, 4:21 PM

— -- President Obama waded into the controversial issue known as net neutrality today, expressing his opposition against proposed measures he said would "end the Internet as we know it," by allowing service providers to create fast and slow lanes.

Some parts of the industry are asking the Federal Communications Commission for more leeway for how they package and sell various Internet plans.

Under net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC in 2010, broadband providers, including Time Warner Cable and Verizon, were prohibited from prioritizing certain Internet traffic. But a three-judge appeals court ruled in January that the FCC's anti-discrimination rules, which require broadband providers to provide the same kind of access to nonprofits and startups that large companies like Netflix receive, may be overreaching.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 gave the FCC authority over companies depending on whether they are a common carrier. Common carriers are public like telephone networks, and they cannot discriminate against consumers. The FCC categorized Internet service providers as information services instead of telecommunication services, which exempted them from common carrier rules. Obama's plan includes classifying consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

Here's a list of things that could dramatically change how the Internet as you know it works without net neutrality.

1. Degraded service

Services that consumers use without paying a special fee to Internet service providers (ISPs) will not work as well because they will be excluded from the ISP's "fast lane," said Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, a digital advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

2. Higher costs

Another short-term consequence is that services offered by an ISP that now have a fee could be more expensive, because those companies may pass the fee on to users, Weinberg said.

Companies like Netflix, which is the largest user of bandwidth in the U.S., may pay more to ISPs to make sure their content is accessible to customers.

However, the major broadband providers, like Comcast, have pledged not to discriminate.

3. Less innovation

Though innovation of late heavily involves the Internet and Web-enabled devices, Weinberg said he fears that losing net neutrality will lead to fewer new innovative services in the long term.

"ISP fees will make it more expensive and harder to launch new services, especially for small companies not tied to existing players," he said. "Ultimately, the Internet will look more like cable television -- with a handful of players and a high barrier to entry -- and less like the Internet as we know it today."

Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association, which represents companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo and Airbnb, applauded President Obama's net neutrality proposal.

"As we have previously said, the FCC must adopt strong, legally sustainable rules that prevent paid prioritization and protect an open Internet for users," Beckerman said in a statement today. "Using Title II authority, along with the right set of enforceable rules, the President’s plan would establish the strong net neutrality protections Internet users require. We welcome the President’s leadership, and encourage the FCC to stand with the Internet’s vast community of users and move quickly to adopt strong net neutrality protections that ensure a free and open Internet."

4. Uneven service: faster service for some

"Operating under the assumption that paid partnerships between ISPs and content providers will equal faster Internet and a better consumer experience, the consumers and content providers in these examples would likely be losers," said a spokeswoman for ZeroDivide, a nonprofit group that advocates for under-served communities for technology issues.

"In the case of the local media outlet, for example, which would be unable to pay more to be delivered on the 'fast lane,' they may find that their consumers leave their site before the multimedia content loads," she said.

5. Greater technological divide by income, demographic

ZeroDivide President and CEO Tessie Guillermo has said there's more at stake than the "possible loss of cheap streaming movies and TV shows."

In addition to Netflix, other content providers that provide educational opportunities or patient-health communication will be unable to share their content, Guillermo said.

"A child in a rural area who loses the ability to video conference with her physician specialist, a single dad who can no longer take his online college courses or a community media outlet in the inner city that is charged more to distribute its news -- these are real losses," Guillermo said.

Editor's note: A version of this story first appeared on ABCNews.com in January.