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Is net neutrality the thorn in the sides of ISPs dying cable market?

These images reflect the disconcerting sentiments of customers in the fight for net neutrality against the FCC and ISPs.
These images reflect the disconcerting sentiments of customers in the fight for net neutrality against the FCC and ISPs.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

So first, what is net neutrality? According to savetheinternet.com, net neutrality is the Internet’s guiding principle: It preserves the right to communicate freely online. Based on the FCC’s 2010 order, this is the definition of an open Internet.

However, a January 2014 court decision gave a green light to Internet service providers to block or interfere with traffic on the Web. After stripping the protections for Internet users, the FCC went even further on May 15th, 2014 with a proposal to allow ISPs to charge extra fees to content companies for preferential treatment, guaranteeing their content reaches end users ahead of those who don't pay.

Telecommunication companies can now institute their own monetary class system that would segment Internet speed capabilities, slow down sites, or block sites all together if they refuse to comply. More importantly, they also have the power to dictate what category certain websites fall under based on their own definition of what a “content company” is in regards to their service offerings.

The FCC’s open comment period expired last month, and one can only speculate of what’s to become of the collective outrage.

Soon the Internet as we know it could cease to exist.

But an underlining question remains, has the FCC provided telecommunication companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Dish Network, and Time Warner with the perfect exist strategy out of cable television by over-turning laws that protect net neutrality? All of these companies both provide cable television bundled with Internet service, and all of these companies have been compounded with heavy losses in cable television subscribers as subscriptions wane.

Over the past decade, cable television according to Business Insider article, “TV Is Dying And Here Are The Stats That Prove It,” viewership has dropped below 40 million subscribers for the first time in history.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by cable providers.

The business insider article also stated that Tom Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications, told Wall Street analysts he was "surprised" that 1.3 million of his 5.5 million customers don't want TV — just broadband internet. Rutledge further explained that their broadband-only growth has been greater than they initially thought it would be.

Broadband subscriptions, on the other hand, continue to increase and the future of cable television providers — is all about broadband connections. The numbers are there, and ISPs are taking advantage in hurt locker market that cable television has become. According to Consummerist.com article, “Time Warner Cable Keeps Charging Customers More for Internet Because They Can,” states that Quartz found that over the past two years alone, TWC’s broadband subscribers have seen their bills go up by 20% — and that’s broadband specifically.

The only way cable providers can stop the bleeding is to focus their collective efforts on the ever expanding broadband capabilities. In February 2014, Comcast reach an agreement to purchase Time Warner Cable for 45.2 billion. Shortly after this bomb shell, in June 2014 AT&T announced their proposed merger with DirectTV worth 48.5 billion.

According to the USA Today article, “AT&T, DirectTV claim merger would lower prices,” stated that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing that by integrating DirecTV's video capabilities with AT&T strength in fixed and mobile broadband delivery, they would create a new competitor with unprecedented capabilities.

The battle lines have been clearly drawn. In one corner you have Comcast and Time Warner, and in the other corner there’s AT&T and DirectTV. All four telecommunication giants hold at least 90 percent of the market combined.

If these mergers indeed are approved, the outcome for customers could be egregious as they would have the power to price fix the entire broadband market. There would be nothing that customers would be able to do, because no other provider would be able to deliver the quality of service combined.

Are these mergers the result of net neutrality’s untimely demise by the FCC? Both mergers were announced after the FCC’s proposed rulings.

And without net neutrality being upheld as a guiding principle of equal Internet for all, telecommunication companies would be able to hold the Internet hostage with whatever fees they see fit to charge to customers.

While some claims may lack precedent, the thought itself is perhaps something worth pondering, as we await final ruling regarding both net neutrality and proposed mergers by telecommunication giants AT&T and DirectTV, and Comcast and Time Warner.