When Donald Trump pulled off a stunning victory to win the U.S. presidency, the entire world began to speculate about what a Trump administration will look like. As the chief executive of a native advertising network, I — and many others that work in digital media — am keeping a particularly close eye on how the president will handle net neutrality.
President Obama was a fierce proponent of net neutrality, specifically with regards to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) establishing formal rules to enforce it. However, the makeup of President Trump’s FCC transition team — led by Jeffrey Eisenach, who has been on Verizon’s payroll for years — suggests his administration will take an entirely different stance on the issue, and will likely reverse the FCC’s previous rules that enforce net neutrality.
The most important principle of net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis, without favoring some sources or blocking others. In practice, that means if you want to watch a movie on Netflix, listen to a song on SoundCloud or watch a video from CNN, your service provider should treat the delivery of and access to all of that content equally. And while the FCC currently supports some regulation, it still allows zero-rating, which many critics believe violates net neutrality.
A term historically used only by telco professionals, zero-rating describes the practice of ISPs, like Comcast and Verizon, allowing customers to consume content from certain platforms without it counting toward their data plan cap.
One of the most popular examples of zero-rating in recent history is T-Mobile’s Binge On program, which removes data limits for a selection of content providers. At first glance, that looks a lot like a violation of net neutrality. So, why is zero-rating allowed under net neutrality rule? Because the FCC hasn’t banned the practice all together, but instead reserves the right to intervene on a case-by-case basis. T-Mobile says any service is allowed to opt-in to the Binge On program so long as they meet its technical specifications, which appears to satisfy the FCC — at least for the time being.
The deal everyone is watching now? That’d be the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner. Like other ISPs, AT&T already practices zero-rating, most notably with its DirectTV Now offering. It also has a program allowing other content creators to pay wholesale prices to turn their programming into zero-rated content. Not only that, but the company says its ultimate vision is to allow consumers to pay once and view everywhere…
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