If Net Neutrality Dies, Is This What the Future of the Internet Will Look Like?

Opponents of "fast lanes" turn to video-game avatars to get their doomsday message out.

NoSlowLane.com / YouTube (National Journal)

The future of the Internet is a dystopia run by the world's biggest, richest companies.

That's the way the Progressive Change Campaign Committee sees it, calling a scenario where net neutrality fails "like living in the laggiest game you've ever played."

In a video aimed at gamers, a spunky avatar sends a warning from the year 2084 to explain that the decision to forgo net neutrality "killed startups and competition."

"All we have left," she laments, "is the junk that big corporations want us to see."

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The argument isn't new. But for all the doomsday rhetoric surrounding net neutrality — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., a leader in the fight for net neutrality, calls the issue "the most important First Amendment issue of our time" — such a fiery hellscape is unlikely.

That's because the maligned Federal Communications Commission has opted to lay out a vague framework on net neutrality that would leave it with a great deal of latitude to enforce neutrality rules — or not. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would have rules enforced on a "case-by-case basis" rather than creating a rigid structure that could stifle the Internet's natural evolution and growth.

Besides, the Internet is hardly a level playing field today. Although the FCC's proposed "fast lanes" — which would allow Internet service providers to slow traffic to websites that don't pay for special service — don't yet exist, many barriers already stand in the way of startups' entry into the high-bandwidth online world. Large content providers like Google and Facebook pay for content-delivery networks that ease the burden caused by high traffic. This allows them to host more photos and videos, and deliver them more quickly to large numbers of users.

Although an FCC decision that strikes down net neutrality could exacerbate this inequality, it is unlikely to plunge the Internet into the corporate-owned abyss. Even 70 years from now.

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