The Federal Communications Commission’s recent proposal to reverse the 2015 regulations aptly called net neutrality has many asking, what is net neutrality, anyway?
“Net neutrality is a strange issue, because it’s a hard issue to grasp … It’s very abstract, and it can be difficult to see exactly how net neutrality will affect your everyday life,” said Sam Gaines, a senior at Concordia and a student manager at Information Technology Services.
According to Gaines, net neutrality is the idea that the internet, and the companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon that provide it, should be neutral. The speed or reliability of the internet should not be affected because of what you are viewing, or whether your service provider supports it.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has advocated for the rolling back of current regulations which classify broadband internet as a tool for communication. If passed, the proposal will instead categorize broadband internet as an information service, a change that would lift bans on creating internet “fast lanes” and “slow lanes”—a practice known as throttling, blocking, or prioritizing certain websites, and reducing the amount of data companies would have to report. The vote will be held on Dec. 14.
Dr. Ahmed Kamel, associate dean at Concordia and professor of computer science and management information systems, explains that without net neutrality, internet providers can dictate what users can and cannot access
“They can restrict our access to sites like Netflix. They can even restrict our access to services like Skype or Messenger in favor of their phone service,” he said.
If net neutrality is repealed, which Gaines predicts it will be, it could drastically change the internet as we know it.
“It can easily make the internet, which is something that we all take for granted, a little bit less accessible, and quite a bit less open for the common internet user,” Gaines said.
Senior Josiah Kohlmeyer, who is majoring in computer science with a concentration in data analytics, added that it could lead to increased prices for internet use.
“If net neutrality gets scrapped, one theory is that [internet service providers] will start bundling websites, almost like they do cable packages,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh, you want to have all the sports websites? You have to pay $20 a month to be able to access ESPN, Fox Sports, whatever. Oh, you want an entertainment package? Okay, you have to pay $100 a month to be able to access Twitch, Netflix, HBO, Hulu’ and so on.”
Kohlmeyer said his initial reaction to the FCC’s proposal was frustration.
“It’s purely a money grab,” he explained. “When net neutrality was first put into place, it closed a loophole before it could be exploited. Getting rid of net neutrality reopens that loophole for ISPs to basically try and pad their bottom line.”
Kohlmeyer added that the proposal is especially frustrating because Pai is a former legal counsel for Verizon.
“If there’s not a conflict of interest there, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Pai has defended the potential repeal of net neutrality, stating that the policy stifles innovation and growth, and that net neutrality rules are not necessary because the Federal Trade Commission can protect consumers from broadband and internet service providers. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, multiple consumer advocacy groups urged Pai to to delay the net neutrality repealing in a letter, stating that the FTC would create a regulatory gap, leaving consumers unprotected.
Casey Currie, a senior political science major, said she felt the repercussions of such a repeal would eventually fall on that of the internet service providers as consumers attempt to go elsewhere for their internet services.
“I think if internet service providers want to provide a good that’s available to as many consumers as possible, then making it the best deal for the best price is obviously going to draw in the most consumers,” Currie said.
However, changing internet providers for some areas of the nation can be a much more difficult feat than simply making an instantaneous switch.
“The infrastructure for getting internet access to people’s home and people’s businesses and communities is extremely expensive to lay down,” Gaines said. “And a lot of these were done with government subsidies; especially in communities like Fargo/Moorhead, more less-metropolitan communities.”
Because of these expenses, there tends to only be a handful of internet service providers in a given area, especially if that area is more rural. Gaines explained that this creates de facto monopolies within certain communities. If the FCC repeals the existing net neutrality laws, according to Gaines, internet service providers will have more freedom to raise prices for consumers; especially if they are one of the few providers serving a region.
While the future remains uncertain, Kohlmeyer is choosing to remain optimistic if net neutrality is repealed.
“I think immediately, nothing’s going to happen. All of the internet service providers have come out and said if net neutrality does get repealed, they’re not going to do anything. But, ISPs have a history of lying, and trying to tailor different legislations in their favor,” Kohlmeyer said.
Kohlmeyer explained that over the long run, if nothing is done within Congress to prevent consumer exploits from occurring, consumers may see internet service providers begin to push the limits of freedom they allot customers when it comes to internet plans. He encourages students to act if they feel strongly about the potential repeal of net neutrality or about their internet freedoms.
“Contact your congressperson, and tell them to voice their displeasure with the repeal of net neutrality, and hope the right thing happens in the near future,” he said. “It’s important to have our voices be heard.”