The spotlight has stayed focused on the Federal Communications Commission since the net neutrality debate began making bigger waves in 2014. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has heard arguments from consumers, telecoms, tech companies and political allies alike, and the Commission looks to be coming to a decision in February. This vote, along with other recent proposals made by the FCC, stands to change the way consumers nationwide access the Internet and pay for cable. As the industry and its customers wade into uncharted territory, it makes sense for consumers to understand how the FCC’s latest moves will impact their selection of cable providers or put cheaper, faster Internet connections at their disposal. The rise of new technology has fundamentally changed the way that Americans can consume media, and it’s up to the FCC to decide how to best regulate these new opportunities.
Recent proposal opens the door for Internet TV
A December proposal supported by Wheeler may give traditional cable companies and over-the-top giant Netflix a long list of new competitors. The proposal would amend a regulation and afford Internet TV companies the same access to media content producers (networks like ABC, HBO, or The Discovery Channel) as traditional cable companies, according to CNET. This would give startup Internet companies free reign to form their own content packages, market them to customers and sell them to any household with a sufficient Internet connection to stream content. TV lovers will have the chance to try out Internet TV with channels like Sony Vue and Dish’s Sling TV on the way in early 2015.
If consumers decide to stream all of their entertainment over their Internet connection, however, they’ll need a fast enough Internet connection to stream with high video quality. In fact, regulators from D.C. predict that the FCC proposal to open the door to Internet TV companies will drive customer demand for faster Internet speeds, said The Washington Post. This trend is especially likely among families, as households planning to cut the cord would need sufficient connection speeds to support multiple devices streaming content at the same time.
FCC redefines “broadband” for the benefit of consumers
Perhaps a means of supplementing the Internet TV provision or merely a reaction to the consumer’s growing need for faster Internet speeds, the FCC has recently announced that it is redefining its definition of broadband. In an announcement released on Jan. 7, Wheeler noted that the move comes in response to the failure of the telecoms to expand their service to a sufficient percentage of the population. He also argued that old definitions of broadband no longer properly represent the speeds necessary to take full advantage of the many resources that the Internet has to offer, according to Ars Technica.
This proposal would bump up the minimum speeds defined by the FCC for broadband as 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, from 4 Mbps and 1 Mbps respectively. For frame of reference, CNN pointed out that 25 Mbps is the minimum speed suggested by Netflix to successfully stream content in 4K ultra-high definition and fast enough to download an HD film in about 10 minutes. The resource also noted that the average Internet connection for broadband customers came out to just under 12 Mbps. It’s evident that the new FCC proposal offers a big upgrade over the speeds that most Americans access, but none of these speeds are guaranteed to consumers. However, the rule change will impact how the FCC evaluates the promises that Internet Service Providers make to their customers.
Wheeler seems to lean toward net neutrality
The long-awaited net neutrality decision may be just over the horizon. Wired reported that the Federal Communications Commission will be making its vote on Feb. 26. In interviews stretching back to April 2014, Chairman Wheeler has expressed resistance toward the idea of Internet connections being organized into tiered lanes based on cost. He has, however, expressed that in some instances there seems to be logical opportunities to use connection prioritization to the benefit of the consumer – the February proposal will likely contain exceptions to allow different tiers of Internet speeds in certain instances.
One underreported consequence of potential passing of net neutrality, particularly if Internet connections are treated like Title II utilities, is the potential for new players in the telecom game to take advantage of existing infrastructure. For example, Motley Fool predicted that Google could wire its gigabit fiber network over phone lines under the new proposal, a change that would allow Google to fast forward its expansion plans and potentially upset traditional Internet providers. The true fallout of these proposals won’t be known until later in 2015, but the landscape of the Internet will surely look different by the end of the year.