If you want to see what America will be like if it ditches net neutrality, just look at Portugal
- The FCC is planning to ditch net neutrality, which requires internet providers to treat all data online equally.
- Portgual's internet providers shows what the American internet could look like if net neutrality is scrapped.
- One company charges people more for additional data based on the kind of app they want to use, from messaging to video.
On Tuesday, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to vote on an order to roll back Obama-era rules that guarantee net neutrality.
Simply put, net neutrality means that all data on the internet is treated equally. An ISP can't prioritize certain companies or types of data, charge users more to access certain websites and apps, or charge businesses for preferential access.
Advocates of net neutrality argue that it ensures a level playing-field for everyone on the internet — while telecoms firms are largely against it because of the additional restrictions it places on them.
But with the Republican-majority FCC likely to vote in favor of repeal on December 14, what might the American internet look like without net neutrality? Just look at Portugal.
In the country, wireless carrier Meo offers a package in the country that is very different to what's available in the US. Users pay for traditional "data" — then on top of that, they pay for additional packages based on the kind of data and apps they want to use on the internet.
Really into messaging? Then pay the €4.99 ($5.86, or £4.43) per month and get more data for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime. Prefer social networks — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and so on? That'll be another €4.99 every month. Video apps like Netflix and YouTube are available as another add-on, while Music (Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Play Music, etc.) is another, as is Email & Cloud (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, iCoud, etc.).
This kind of model is dangerous, net neutrality's defenders argue, because it risks creating a two-tier system that harms competition. People will naturally just use big apps included in the bundles that they've already paid for, while upstart challengers will be left out in the cold.
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For example: If you love watching video and Netflix is included in the video bundle but Hulu isn't, you'll likely try to save money by just using Netflix — making it harder for its competitors.
And without net neutrality, big apps could theoretically even pay telecoms firms for preferential access, offering them money that smaller companies just can't compete with. (It's not clear if any of the companies named above have paid for preferential access.) An ISP could even refuse to grant access to an app at all unless they paid up.
The Meo example was originally shared on Twitter by California congressman Ro Khanna back in October. "In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages," he wrote.
"A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what's at stake and that's why we have to save net neutrality."
Technically, Portugal is bound by the EU's net neutrality rules, but there are loopholes that allow certain kinds pricing schemes like those outlined above.
Yonatam Zunger, an ex-Google employee, recently retweeted it, adding: "This isn't even the worst part of ending net neutrality. The worst part happens when ISPs say 'we don't like this site's politics,' or 'this site competes with us,' and block or throttle it."
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