The US FCC's (Federal Communications Commission) decision on Thursday to repeal net neutrality rules has provoked an outcry among startups and NGOs, and also the wider public, both in the US and abroad.
Among the louder proponents of net neutrality are VPN providers, who didn't mince their words in criticising the FCC's decision.
VPN provider IPVanish described (opens in new tab) FCC chairman Ajit Pai - who has been widely ridiculed for his YouTube comedy sketches (see video below) on net neutrality - as someone who is "proven to make decisions only at the behest of broadband conglomerates", adding that his actions were a "blatant condescension and disrespect towards the concerns of citizens in the face of his role".
NordVPN was also quick to react (opens in new tab), saying repealing net neutrality rules gives broadband providers way too much power.
"This move allows broadband companies to potentially reshape the online experiences of American citizens," it says in a blog post. However, the company doesn’t believe the repeal will go through without a fierce fight from the opposition, which includes "Democrats, activists and consumers".
"Before the new order is even approved, consumer groups are already preparing to challenge it in court,” it said. “Whatever the outcome of this complicated and long-drawn debate, now that the rollback plan is underway, you should consider using a VPN."
- VPNs can actually allow you to get around Net Neutrality controls set by ISPs. Here is a list of the best VPN services (opens in new tab) we've tested.
Tweeting about the repeal, TunnelBear VPN service compared the future internet with cable TV. “Big companies – not you – decide what you see,” it says (opens in new tab).
ExpressVPN also expressed its concern: In a statement to TechRadar Pro, the company’s Vice President, Harold Li, says the decision "strikes at the very heart of the free and open internet", but adds that Americans "won’t take this lying down" and "will continue to hold both the government and ISPs accountable for continuing to uphold the principles of net neutrality".
Another VPN provider, Goose VPN, shared the same sentiment as its rivals: "We’re disappointed by yesterday’s decision to change net neutrality in the US. This is a step in the wrong direction for internet freedom in the age of innovation and creativity. [We] stand with others in opposition to the FCC ruling".
Goldenfrog's president, Sunday Yokibaitis (opens in new tab), stressed the fact that this is a global rather than a US-only issue: "Every Internet user around the world deserves fair access to a free and open Internet", he added, "and to the same speed and content regardless of their provider or the amount they pay."
Omninously, Yegor Sak from Windscribe mentioned that VPN may or may not be able to help. "It's highly unfortunate that the American lawmakers entirely disregarded the will of a vocal majority. Whether VPNs will be able to help, entirely depends on how the "fast lanes" will be implemented. If it's based on a blacklist, meaning sites like Youtube, Netflix, Facebook, etc could be directly targeted and slowed down unless the company pays money to the ISP, or the consumer does, then the VPN will definitely help. If it's done via a white-list, meaning everything is slowed down unless the companies pay the ISP, then no VPN will be able to bypass these limitations. "
The bigger picture
Net neutrality (opens in new tab) is the principle that ISPs (internet service providers) need to treat all data passing through to its consumers equally. Eliminating net neutrality means that ISPs could decide to give some internet services (like video streaming services, for example) a so-called internet fast lane, speeding the service up. That would mean shorter buffering times and less lag.
Even though it sounds nice on paper, this would also mean that those service providers that can’t afford to pay ISPs for the fast lane, would be stuck in the slow lane.
This also means that ISPs could start bundling some internet sites as services and offering them as they offer TV packages (you could have, for example, a social media pack where you pay for access to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, without having access to other sites).
The FCC commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines. The repeal of the net neutrality rules, which were put into place two years ago, doesn’t mean the internet will implode tomorrow, and the battle will now shift to the courtroom.
VPN providers have a vested interest in the net neutrality debate, as sales of their services are usually buoyed by any attempts to stifle internet access in any markets.