Innovation

A Trump presidency could mean trouble for net neutrality rules

President-elect Donald Trump publicly stated that he disagrees with net neutrality rules. Here's why rolling net neutrality back could be costly for businesses and consumers.

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Image: iStockphoto/kostsov

Net neutrality rules could be on the chopping block for the Trump administration, potentially raising prices for internet access for small businesses and consumers, experts say.

The FCC's net neutrality rules, released in 2015, banned paid prioritization and throttling content. It also reclassified broadband access as a telecommunications service, under Title II of the Communications Act, and said that consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

Trump's proposed policies on net neutrality remain unknown. In 2014, when Obama began pushing for the new laws, Trump tweeted the following:


However, it is unclear exactly what Trump meant by this: The FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to provide airtime for contrasting viewpoints on controversial public issues, in 1987. Net neutrality rules do not target any specific type of media; rather, they ensure a level playing field for consumers accessing all data.

"He has made some references to net neutrality, but hasn't been extremely vocal about it," said Joe Carella, assistant dean of executive education at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management. "We need to take what he said in 2014 with a pinch of salt. What I think is more telling is who he has brought in to help him craft tech policies, who is Jeffrey Eisenach."

Eisenach, who Trump is likely to elect as FCC chairman, is currently a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and has criticized the Obama administration's efforts on net neutrality.

SEE: Trump's hostile attitude toward free trade could threaten tech sector and overseas commerce for US

"President-elect Donald Trump is anti-regulation, and this could mean big changes for net neutrality," said consultant Bert Martinez, CEO of Bert Martinez Communications.

It's likely that nothing will happen in this arena during Trump's first 100 days in the Oval Office, Martinez said. "I predict that he's going to go after more intrusive regulations and net neutrality will be dealt with much later," he said. It would mean that in general, big tech companies like Facebook and Amazon could be facing increased costs to access the internet, Martinez said. And consumers could also expect an increase from their service providers for faster internet access.

"The net neutrality linchpin for the Trump administration will be dealing with the US Court of Appeals affirming the FCC determination that internet access is a utility not a luxury," Martinez said.

Consequences of a lack of net neutrality

It would be difficult to totally scrap the net neutrality rules, Carella said. "Given that net neutrality as it stands has already been brought to the federal appeals court, I wouldn't be surprised if it became a civil liberties issue, and was brought all the way up to the Supreme Court," he said.

The more likely path will be for the Trump administration to keep the rules, but not enforce them, Carella said.

Either getting rid of the rules or choosing not to enforce them will have a number of consequences, Carella said. "The ones that are likely to suffer from lack of net neutrality are going to be the lower-income households, who will have to possibly pay more for fast streaming services," he said.

If telecommunications providers do not charge more at the consumer end, they will charge more for content providers, such as Amazon or Netflix. "It really means the consumer will pay more in one shape or another, in the form of money or ads," Carella said. "It seems like we could be rolling back to the 1980s from that perspective."

Small businesses would also likely have to pay more for fast streaming.

As education becomes increasingly tied to the internet, a lack of access to online media could further disadvantage poor students who cannot access online assignments at home, Carella said.

"The sphere of influence is going to shift—up until now Amazon and Netflix were the ones winning the battle," Carella said. "Now it's more likely that Verizon and AT&T will be the ones driving the rules."

Recent rules passed by the FCC also prevent telecommunications companies from selling customer data to third parties without their knowledge. This could also be rolled back under a Trump presidency.

Under the current rules, consumers are allowed to access the internet on any device they want. In an extreme case, with no net neutrality laws, it's possible that a provider like AT&T could say "Here are the five devices you can connect with, none other," Carella said. And you would have to purchase those devices through the provider, paying more than on the open market. But this is unlikely, he adds.

In the end, "tech is self-advancing," Carella said. "If you push innovation out of legality, so to speak, I wouldn't be surprised if tech providers came up with work-around solutions that allow them to essentially accomplish net neutrality without the collaboration of the government."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. President-elect Donald Trump's policy plans regarding net neutrality rules remain unclear, though he has publicly expressed anti-regulation opinions in the past.
  2. Trump's telecommunications advisor will likely be Jeffrey Eisenach, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who has criticized the Obama administration's efforts on net neutrality.
  3. It is not likely that the Trump administration will get rid of net neutrality rules; rather, they will likely not enforce them, which could lead to increased costs for internet access, especially for low-income families.

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About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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