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Netflix's deal with Comcast creates major concerns about the Internet’s future

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The ongoing battle over net neutrality encountered another curve ball as two companies sparring over Internet usage reached an agreement to settle the dispute last week.

Comcast, which provides high-speed Internet access to much of the Chicago area, agreed with Video on Demand service Netflix on a deal to improve the speeds of the streaming service for Comcast customers. While neither company has disclosed specifics, sources reported that Netflix would pay Comcast for direct access to its network, allowing for faster streaming of movies and television shows.

The agreement comes weeks after a federal appeals court struck down net neutrality, which prevented Internet Service Providers like Comcast from throttling certain network traffic. This agreement complicates the net neutrality argument as, instead of slowing down certain traffic as net neutrality prevented, Comcast has sped up a paying service in Netflix.

Consumers may feel the effects of this agreement by seeing higher costs in their services. The company could decide to increase prices for Comcast users specifically or even to its entire subscription base. On the other side, Comcast could decide to shift the costs of improving its network onto consumers by charging users for using certain bandwidth-intensive services. Many Internet Service Providers and cell phone companies currently use data caps, which give an allotted amount of monthly usage for each account while charging more money to users who go over their quota. With the end of network neutrality, ISPs could institute more charges for access to certain services. In the future, streaming services like Netflix could be charged as part of a premium package just as HBO is added on to cable and satellite services for those who pay extra fees.

If users dislike paying more for certain services, it’s difficult for many if not impossible to switch providers. In the Chicago area, the reality is that residents pay for Internet through companies like Comcast because no other options exist, even as Comcast is the worst-rated company in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. The lack of options for an essential service like Internet access prevents residents from having any real choice in providers.

The net neutrality debate has serious implications for the future of Internet access for people in Chicago and across the country, and decisions made about net neutrality down the road could fundamentally change the Internet as it exists today.