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You can use a ​VPN to battle ISP net neutrality abuse

The FCC's butchery of net neutrality has become law, and people are turning to virtual private networks to preserve their privacy and access.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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The Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has destroyed net neutrality. While there are efforts from the Senate to local governments to restore net neutrality, in the meantime, we're still stuck with ISPs that can control how much bandwidth we get to a particular site and who can spy on your web traffic. One answer we can use today to reclaim some of our freedom are virtual private networks (VPNs).

The need for such services is becoming clear, as ISPs are starting to break net neutrality. AT&T is leading the destruction of net neutrality. Despite its claims to the contrary, AT&T is preparing to implement fast and slow lanes. Its "free" lanes are with the Sponsored Data plan for AT&T video services such as DirecTV Now.

These changes foreshadow more drastic damage to net neutrality. Under the FCC's new rules, for example, an ISP could charge you more if you watched Netflix instead of Hulu. Or, it could slow your Sling TV video while allowing YouTube TV to run at full speed.

Don't think ISPs would do this? Think again. It's already happened. In 2012, AT&T banned Apple FaceTime on its networks. And, in 2014, Verizon slowed down Netflix traffic.

In addition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has pointed out that you can expect your ISP to sell your data to marketers; hijack your searches; snoop through your traffic to add yet more ads; and inject undetectable, non-deletable tracking cookies in all of your HTTP traffic. These are all things ISPs have done before -- and free of regulation, they'll do even more of it.

What can you do? Turn to a VPN.

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With a VPN service, your ISP can't see your your network traffic, so it can't tell where you're going or what services you're using. Verizon, which owns Yahoo, won't be able to tell, for instance, that you're using Google for your searches. And, of course, since your ISP can't read your traffic, it can't sell your information or place targeted ads in it.

Your ISP should -- note I said should -- treat your VPN traffic as ordinary traffic. In some countries, notably China and Russia, VPNs are tightly controlled or banned. It's possible ISPs or President Donald Trump's government may yet try similar things with US VPNs, but they haven't tried this yet.

In the meantime, some people have already turned to VPNs to protect themselves from their ISPs. Ariel Hochstadt, former Gmail marketing manager and present internet entrepreneur, noticed that just the FCC's first moves to kill off net neutrality in April 2017 caused a 170-percent increase in VPN sales. In an interview, David Gorodyansky, CEO of Anchor Free, the parent company of the HotSpot Shield VPN, said he saw a spike in VPN sales after the FCC's anti-net neutrality moves. NordVPN said its "American users grew by 250 percent since last year, and we think in big part it's due to the revocation of net neutrality."

NordVPN added, "A VPN service gives access to the internet without throttling and censorship - the way it's supposed to be." The company's right.

There are many good VPNs out there for reasonable rates. ZDNet looked into many of them in our VPN services 2018 guide and Best mobile VPNs guide. Read these recommendations, and then check one out. You'll be glad you did.

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