AT&T has recently published a patent that would allow it to charge its customers based on how they use the internet. Patent US 20140010082 A1 proposes a process by which the company could charge its internet customers based on how much bandwidth they use. For example, those who stream music—and especially those who stream video via websites such as Netflix—would be required to pay more for their service.
AT&T would sell packages that allow for higher bandwidth depending on what the user plans on doing with their internet. Someone who just checks Facebook would buy a cheaper package, while a streamer might buy a more pricey package. Many already invest in more premium internet connections to ensure fast connection speeds, however the new proposal would allow AT&T to actively punish users for using more bandwidth than their plan allows for. The company will be able to slow down a user's service, or levy fines against them.
The major complaint against the new proposal is that it goes against the legal concept of "net neutrality," which requires Internet Service Providers to treat all sites equally despite content. However the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Washington D.C. circuit ruled during December that the FCC could no longer enforce net neutrality.
The court's ruling could theoretically allow ISPs such as AT&T to block web sites from their service. The company, which also provides cable television service, might find it profitable to cut off access to sites such as Netflix or Hulu.
U.S. citizens aren't taking the death of net neutrality lying down however. An FCC petition demanding the return of net neutrality gathered more than one million signatures, a development FCC chairman Tom Wheeler described as "boffo," which Wikipedia defines as "very good."