How New Net Neutrality Rules Could Make Gaming Worse

The internet is fighting for net neutrality. Here's what could happen to online gaming if they lose.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

The internet is in the middle of a fight for its freedom, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) looking to repeal strict net neutrality rules placed upon ISPs in 2015 order to maintain a fair internet. If this repeal is successful, it opens the online world up to a slew of problems including internet speeds being throttled, costly data caps and paid fast lanes.

With major sites from Google to Reddit fighting back against the FCC’s plans, many still don’t understand the benefit of net neutrality, and just how disastrous obstructing it could be for the future of the web. But while it will affect everyone who uses the internet, given how closely linked the online world is to video games, many are wondering how much gaming will be impacted if the repeal takes place. With that being said, let’s take a look at how a scaling back of net neutrality could make gaming worse:

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality currently ensures that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have to operate on a level playing field, with them providing the same amount of access to websites and online services regardless of their own interests. Without net neutrality, an ISP could effectively decide to throttle access to sites and services owned by rival companies, thus prioritizing their own affiliates or companies that pay up to receive better speeds. In other words, an internet without net neutrality is one that is ruled by ISPs and the companies with the money to pay out for fast lanes

 

Why is net neutrality under threat and what is Title II?

President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai wants to scale back regulations set in place by Obama in 2015, which saw internet providers’ services classified as telecommunications under Title II of the Communications Act. Title II specifically prevents ISPs from throttling speeds, enforcing paid fast lanes and blocking sites/apps, along with allowing the Federal Communications Commission to investigate “interconnect” agreements made between ISPs and major content companies such as Netflix.

Though ISPs have argued that the reclassification adds “red tape” that prevents them from being able to innovate, it was also a major step forward for net neutrality, with many arguing that it was the only way to prevent ISPs from competing in a manner that would ultimately affect consumers. Though the likes of AT&T and Verizon were against their Title II reclassification, claiming it would halt expansion, Sprint supported the move and said that it would not impede the company’s progress whatsoever, while Google also backed it and revealed that it would not affect their Google Fiber development.

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Scaling back net neutrality has many risks for online gaming.

How does net neutrality affect gaming?

If the Title II classification is repealed, ISPs will no longer be forced to adhere to the rules that had been set in place to prevent them from enforcing data caps, fast lanes et al. While ISPs such as Comcast argue that they wish to keep an open internet without Title II’s governmental red tape, in reality no plan has been suggested by the government to ensure that this would be the case, so internet users would be asked to just take their word for it.

With gaming now so connected (pun intended) to the internet, repealing the Title II classification of ISPs’ services will inevitably impact the gaming industry. For starters, with digital downloads taking up so much data, ISPs could force digital distribution market leaders such as Valve, Sony and Microsoft to cough up more cash and throttle their speeds. The result of such a move would lead to downloads taking more time, even if you’ve paid for a high-speed internet package to specifically ensure that this wouldn’t be the case.

Online gaming could take a hit, too, with latency being a major concern. Latency is the total time taken by your computer to send data to a game’s server, and if online speeds are throttled, then this will suffer. Latency essentially serves as the difference between you making a shot or missing your target, and if it takes a hit then so does the competitiveness of games such as Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and more.

Latency also affects the quality of game streaming services such as PlayStation Now. While there aren’t too many of these yet, if companies eventually do move into Netflix-style streaming platforms for gaming, then companies slowing down speeds and bringing in fast lanes would either make such services less efficient or likely cause them to be more expensive.

Then there are data caps. If the Title II repeal takes place, the FCC will no longer have the authority to evaluate whether or not companies are viable for data cap exemptions. This means that online gaming platforms, which requires a ton of data what with the size of digital downloads and other assorted data-hogging services, would likely be placed under the spotlight by ISPs. If extra charges are incurred, this would no doubt affect how much gamers pay for services such as PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live.

Though none of these outcomes will definitely happen, repealing the Title II classification is a step backwards for net neutrality and will bring with it all of these risks and more for gaming. To pledge your support to the battle against the repeal, visit BattleForTheNet.com.