(Bloomberg News) -- The Federal Communications Commission’s long-awaited rules to ensure Internet openness take effect today. Whether you’re a casual Web user or a so-called “cord cutter” who’s ditched pay-TV service in favor of streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, here’s how the regulations might affect you.
Under the FCC rules, companies providing you a broadband Internet access service -- whether it’s cable in your home or 4G on your phone -- must treat all traffic traveling over the Web equally. They can’t block your lawful content or slow your connection to keep you from using particular services, apps or devices. They also can’t favor their own content ahead of others’ or create fast lanes for a fee.
Your days of buffering delays aren’t necessarily over though, especially during peak hours when networks are congested. But the FCC rules require Internet service providers to be much more upfront about how they manage their networks. For example, they must now tell you when a “network practice” is “likely to significantly affect” your use of their Internet services.
The FCC rules also equip you with more general information about the services you’re buying. Companies must publicly divulge what speeds they’re offering and what could happen if you exceed your monthly data cap or usage-allowance limit.
Although you’ve got some new protections starting today, you might not notice an overnight change -- at least not yet.
The FCC, in the rules, declined to “make blanket findings” about the “benefits and drawbacks of data allowances and usage-based pricing plans.”
This means that your provider can still charge higher monthly rates if you consume more bandwidth by streaming more TV shows or gaming -- rates that will only increase with more cord-cutting and more gaming.
The Internet service providers “can still charge a lot for broadband,” Jonathan Askin, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, said in an interview.
Without regulation of data caps or rates, providers will bill for “whatever the market will bear,” Askin said. Translation: Higher rates for broadband service, regardless of the FCC rules.
The good news is that the rules leave certain tools at your disposal. You can run speed tests to monitor your Internet connections for signs it’s being degraded at websites like battleforthenet. You can report concerns to the FCC, many of which the commission has said it will address on a case-by-case basis.
“The rules going into effect don’t prevent any of those arguably discriminatory uses; it just leaves the door open for the FCC to analyze it if someone brings a complaint about it,” said Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press, in an interview. “Does anything change? Not really, but the legal protections are put back.”
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