In the ongoing battle over Net Neutrality - whether all Internet users will be treated the same or not - consumers are getting stuck in the middle again.
Throughout the country, companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and Verizon have signed agreements with cities that prohibit local governments from becoming internet service providers and prohibit municipalities from selling or leasing their fiber to local startups who would compete with these huge corporations.
Because ISPs often double as cable and telephone companies, during contract negotiations with governments, they'll often offer incentives to the government—such as better or faster service, earlier access to (their company's) cable internet for residents, and the like—in exchange for a non-compete clause.
That means that some cities themselves could already be offering high-speed, fiber-optic Internet. But although some of them are doing so now (as pictured in the map below), many won't, because they signed agreements with cable companies not to.
According to MuniNetworks, a group that tracks community access to fiber nationwide, at least 20 states have laws or other regulatory barriers that make it illegal or difficult for communities to offer fiber access to their residents. Even in states where there are no official rules, non-compete agreements between government and big business are common.
What does Net Neutrality have to do with it? The cable companies and other providers don't want to treat all Internet users the same. They want to create another tier of service for heavy users - like Netflix, for example. If they can, they'll charge Netflix more to keep their movies streaming seamlessly - which makes more money for the providers. That battle has already broken out into the open recently, with Netflix accusing Verizon of slowing down its service.
If providers are able to kill Net Neutrality, you'll certainly take a hit. Some expect Internet speeds to slow down - known as "throttling" - for anybody who isn't paying premium rates.
What's all this talk about Net Neutrality anyway? Here are 3 things you need to know about Net Neutrality.