Network Neutrality Repeal Has Big Positive Effect on VPN Services

With the network neutrality repeal moving ahead in the US, it seems that some (VPN services) are able to cash in on the developments.

It’s a move that has caused widespread opposition. It also favours the major Internet Service Provider’s (ISP). Late last month, we noted that the repeal of network neutrality rules have entered the Federal Register. It’s a milestone for the repeal many say signals the beginning of the major fight to save the Internet.

With the threat of the stymieing of innovation as well as a reduction of services looming, it’s very hard to see any upside to any of this outside of a brand new way for big ISPs to cash in. As it turns out, some are seeing a practical upside to all of this. With the threat of the Internet getting throttled and filtered by ISPs, Virtual Private Services (or VPNs), are seeing a major surge in interest for their services.

Speaking to Business Insider, the CEO of Anchor Free who offers famed VPN service HotSpot Shield is saying that his company is experiencing the best year ever in the US. It seems that with the threat of the closure of the open Internet is causing many American’s to seek out services that retain that online freedom. From the report:

According to the CEO of AnchorFree, a provider of a popular virtual private networking product, the company had its best year ever in 2017. HotSpot Shield, the company’s VPN product, saw more than 100 million downloads in 2017 alone, bringing the company’s total user base up to 600 million worldwide.

A VPN, or a virtual private network, is a service that masks internet traffic by rerouting it through a third-party server. It’s a popular tool in places like China, allowing users to circumvent the government firewall that blocks certain sites.

David Gorodyansky, CEO of Anchor Free, told Business Insider he saw enormous — and unprecedented — spikes in new users immediately after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission rolled back net neutrality regulations.

Before 2017, nearly 80% of HotSpot Shield’s users were located outside of the U.S., mostly in countries where internet usage is restricted or moderated. All of that changed in the past year. Now, users in the U.S. outnumber users abroad, which Gorodyansky said was unexpected because VPNs typically appeal to international users.

“If the FCC doesn’t want to regulate net neutrality. That’s fine. We wish they did, but they don’t want to, that’s OK,” Gorodyansky said. “We’re basically going to solve this from a technology point of view.”

What is unclear is just how much a VPN service can protect users from the ills of a non-neutral Internet. It is certainly true that VPN’s can very easily protect against Internet censorship in cases where websites are blocked. On the other hand, it’s difficult to say if a VPN can protect against the racking up of data caps. After all, there is nothing to stop ISPs from metering any traffic flowing to a VPN service. Still, it seems many Americans are now flocking to such services anyway to at least get some protection from the network neutrality repeal.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that the fight to save the open Internet is far from over. There are still lawsuits and legislation being tabled and passed. Some laws are at the state level while others are being proposed at the federal level. So, it is not as though the fight is lost as of yet, however, the fight to save the Internet is far from a sure win at this stage.

Just the same, it is certainly an unnerving sight from a digital rights perspective. People are flocking to VPN services because the government is no longer protecting the integrity of the Internet. With all this uncertainty, though, it’s not actually a huge surprise that people will seek out options to keep the Internet as open as possible.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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