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Net neutrality to come to an end, but what does it mean for users?

A recent court ruling has many believing that Net Neutrality has come to an end, however, opinions differ as to whether or not this will hurt or benefit Internet users.

The Internet is a relatively young industry for telecoms. While many people are coming online through the aid of fiber optic cables, it was not all that long ago that going on the Internet meant tying up telephone usage in the home. Today, cyberspace extends to numerous aspects of society – from the phones we use to electricity that is distributed throughout the country, numerous devices now use the connectivity of the Internet to enhance their capabilities.

However, one of the major ways in which the average Internet user interacts online tends to revolve around interactions with content. Be it through a YouTube video, televisions shows or movies on Netflix or articles on blogs for a variety of subjects, ultimately, citizens are digesting information in one medium or another. Currently, content providers can be accessed equally, outside of subscription services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. 

What is Net Neutrality? 
This is because the Internet has operated on Net Neutrality principles since the Federal Communication Commissions' 2010 Open Internet order. According to Time Magazine, this legislation comes down to three main points. One is that Internet service providers cannot hide how they control online traffic. The second is that they cannot block access to certain websites on wired networks nor can they slow down Internet speed for specific websites.

This means that if a certain internet provider also owns a content distribution website, they cannot show favoritism toward their own site when compared to competitors.

Neutral no more
These policies have been in place since 2010, however, they are soon to end, according to Time, following a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. circuit. The decision upheld the transparency policy of the Open Internet order, but struck down the rules against blocking and showing favoritism toward certain websites.

There are a variety of implications that this ruling brings with it. For instance, Time reported that Internet providers will be able to charge wealthy content companies large amounts of money to provide customers access to their client base. Further, it could create a tiered internet in which some services are able to operate at faster speeds than others.

What does it mean?
There are conflicting opinions on what the effects of this ruling will have on the average Internet user. While many feel that ISPs will stifle online innovation, others such as Comcast, are committed to maintaining Net Neutrality policies for the foreseeable future, according to CNET.

The news source reported that the ruling can be a positive or negative based on how one feels about the debate. Internet service for streaming content providers, such as Netflix, could be enhanced by providing higher bandwidth and being able to manage larger amounts of traffic. Also, AT&T has proposed a scheme where mobile app developers would end up paying for the Internet services that their consumers use, rather than having it count against the individual user's data plan.

However, many also feel that such policies could stifle innovation on the Internet. Time noted that Skype is an example of a major start-up company that was able to emerge because of net neutrality policies. The company's service was able to be accessed for free and has had a profound impact on the industry. But if a company felt threatened about how such a service could affect business, access to the start-up could be limited. While ISPs have committed to open Internet access, supporters of Net Neutrality feel that this could be a slippery slope.

It will be interesting to see how these kinds of policies play out as their ripple effects unfold.

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