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In December 2017, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality, giving the world wide web, in one fell swoop, over to Internet Service Providers. This maneuver aims to deregulate the industry and allow companies such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to slow down, block, and throttle websites, and charge consumers more for particular internet services. The FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” which repealed the net neutrality protections, was officially published on February 22.
While most American internet users still haven’t fully felt the effects of the repeal, an ongoing online campaign has gained momentum. Net neutrality activism has, however, at least played a part in the unusual, enormous, and unprecedented spike in VPN usage in the United States. There was a whopping 170 percent increase in VPN sales in the US.
A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, is a service that masks and spoofs the end user’s IP address, sending internet traffic through a third party server, and therefore circumventing censorship and government firewalls. In countries like China and Russia, where the world wide web is heavily monitored, government-controlled, and censored, VPNs have become synonymous with privacy and freedom of information. These shifts have even led Putin to sign a new law effectively banning such anonymous browsing tools in Russia.
VPN downloads, for both the free and paid versions, has literally spiked over the last year. As an example, HotSpot Shield — one of the most popular VPNs in the world, saw more than 100 million downloads in 2017 alone, exceeding all expectations and breaking previous records.
David Gorodyansky, CEO of HotSpot Shield, saw unprecedented spikes in new users immediately after the FCC repealed net neutrality. He thinks the FCC’s crackdown on net neutrality, in combination with high-profile hacks, is why Americans are losing trust in corporations and the government.
“Over the last 18 months, people are starting to realize that the government won’t protect them and that Google and Facebook and other social companies want to use their data as currency. People are realizing that they need to take this into their own hands,” Gorodyansky said, adding that “Americans are starting to realize that security and privacy are important.”
Gorodyansky claims to have witnessed three major spikes. The first one happened after Congress voted to allow ISPs to sell web and app usage to third parties without asking users for permission. The second spike occurred along with the Equifax hack. And lastly, the third surge of new users happened after the FCC repealed net neutrality.
Since the FCC has given communications companies that run the ISPs the ability to control Internet services, speed and pricing, then independent technology companies will need to step up. There’s been this transition where people are starting to trust big corporations and the government less with their information.
Former Gmail marketing manager at Google, writer Ariel Hochstadt recently wrote an interesting blog post, pointing out the irony that seems to be mockingly emerging amidst the net neutrality repeal backlash.
According to Hochstadt, VPN sales have skyrocketed in Australia, which experienced a 470 percent increase in VPN sales. In the United States, there was a 170 percent increase in VPN sales. Likewise, Turkey experienced a rise of 89 percent.
“It appears the drive for an uncensored, untampered and neutral internet couldn’t be stronger. The actions of the FCC management made them an unlikely sales team for the VPN community. With more awakened internet users taking their privacy seriously, we can pretty much say that a VPN is a thorn in the side of this gargantuan force seeking to monopolize a free and open internet”, says Hochstadt.
In Australia, April 13 has been dubbed the “National get a VPN day” by various internet privacy organizations and activists. Similarly, Ariel Hochstadt jokingly declared FCC Chairman Ajit Pai “VPN Industry Man of the Month.”
The unintended consequences of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal are slowly manifesting into reality, and at a tremendous pace. For VPN providers, business is clearly booming.
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