The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on Thursday to repeal the net neutrality rules that the same body put into place back in 2015, with the commissioners almost certain to approve the rollback.
And while the change in rules could have broad implications for the internet as a whole, there are also possible changes in store for the gaming industry.
Under current rules that enforce net neutrality, all data that is sent over networks must be treated the same by internet service providers (ISPs). In particular, ISPs are not allowed to either block, slow, or give preference to certain sites or services.
Critics Fear Fees, Unequal Treatment of Sites Following Repeal
With these rules eliminated, telecom companies like Verizon and Comcast could potentially choose to favor content that they own, or from sites that are willing to pay for preferential access.
For instance, Verizon might make it easier for users to enjoy content from Yahoo, which they own, while finding ways to restrict rival content unless users or the companies who control those sites are willing to pay for it.
Just how far the telecoms are willing to go remains to be seen, as Americans have become used to an internet that is widely open and unrestricted. But many experts predict that users will see prices rise as at least some ISPs try to add tolls or fees for users who want access to everything the internet has to offer.
Behind the scenes, companies that use a lot of bandwidth may be forced to either pay the telecoms or live with slower service for their clients. That’s a problem for smaller companies and startups, who may not be able to compete on an even footing with major competitors that can pay for unlimited bandwidth.
Smaller Gambling Sites Could Suffer
That’s where online gambling sites could be impacted. Much of the iGaming industry requires fast, reliable connections for gamblers to get the service they have come to expect. Gamblers who enjoy online poker or want to make in-play bets at sportsbooks won’t be happy if slower connections to these sites cause folded hands or missed wagers.
These problems might be most prevalent when it comes to grey market sites that will have little clout and no ability to pay telecom giants for unfettered high-speed service. But corporate drama could also play out among regulated online gambling operations in states like New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Major gaming firms could jockey for preferential relationships with ISPs in an effort to get better treatment for their sites compared to their smaller rivals.
Thursday’s vote is expected to pass by a 3-2 margin, with the two other Republican commissioners joining FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in supporting the measure. However, that’s unlikely to be the last word on the future of net neutrality.
Supporters of the current regulations are likely to file lawsuits in order to contest Pai’s directive, which could hold up the implementation of the new rules while the case winds its way through the courts.
Meanwhile, a group of early internet pioneers such as World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have published an open letter to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, hoping to get the committee to prevent the vote from taking place.