Later this month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether or not internet service providers, or ISPs, such as Verizon or Comcast, will be able to block certain content or provide faster streaming and services to desirable companies. Such a move would essentially toss out the Obama-era regulations of net neutrality.
Net neutrality refers to a policy known as Title II, instated by the FCC, which says that the internet must be regarded as a utility, just like traditional telephone lines. It defines ISPs as common carriers to be regulated in order to ensure an open internet for all users.
When FCC chair Ajit Pai announced in a statement on Nov. 21 that he was proposing to repeal these rules and “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” the praise and criticism came swiftly.
Comcast’s corporate page commended Pai’s plan and also said: “We applaud the Chairman’s efforts to repeal the ill-advised and outdated burden of Title II classification, which has harmed broadband investment and innovation. We also commend the imposition of a transparency rule that requires ISPs to disclose their net neutrality practices to consumers.”
The company also mentioned that it would continue to treat websites the same.
The hashtag #NetNeutrality quickly swept over Twitter with thousands of users voicing their thoughts, and much of it was in opposition to the proposal.
“It seems kind of dangerous to me,” Erik Carlson, assistant professor of library sciences at the UAA/APU Consortium Library, said. “[Net neutrality] is one of the things that makes the web so vibrant and useful.”
Much of Carlson’s concern revolves around the idea of equal speed and equal access for internet users. This is especially important for a place like the library for people who study and look up research.
“You have these open repositories where you have all this great research that’s free and they get served up at the same speed as, say, the journals we pay for,” Carlson said. “If there wasn’t a neutral net, those could be served at different speeds or even blacklisted.”
AT&T has a webpage that states, “We support an open internet,” and Charter issued a statement online that says their “support for an open internet is an integral part of our commitment.”
Kenrick Mock, UAA’s department chair of computer science and engineering, is not so sure about these comments of support.
“In the past, the carriers have said that they believe in net neutrality as a guiding principle, but at the same time, they’ve wanted to — for business purposes, it kind of makes sense that they want to own a particular property,” Mock said.
For example, the video on demand service, Hulu, is partially owned by Comcast. Net neutrality proponents argue that this kind of relationship could allow Comcast, Verizon and other ISPs to play favorites.
“It makes some sense that Comcast may want to prefer Hulu traffic over Netflix, for example,” Mock said.
Issues surrounding what ISPs and other tech companies can or cannot do have risen in the past. In 2009, AT&T was investigated by the FCC after news stirred regarding the mobile network’s blocking of voice services, such as Skype, from connecting to iPhones via their data network.
Skype had made a formal complaint in the years prior regarding their service being blocked. It wasn’t until Julius Genachowski was appointed FCC chairman that the commission investigated the issue and began considering applying rules to mobile networks.
Some have described a web without net neutrality as a platform similar to cable television. What consumers see in terms of content would be determined by how much they pay and managed by only a few service providers.
“Cable is more for consuming specific content whereas the internet is providing more basic access to information,” Mock said. “It provides more fundamental information access and needs to be treated a little more differently.”
Eliminating net neutrality could still present advantages for the economic growth within the United States, such as providing more choices for consumers.
“If there is good competition, then you could actually see lower prices. There could be the case of tiered pricing structures and someone really wants basic services and they could just pay for that,” Mock said.
Carlson says that the effects of repealing net neutrality rules won’t happen overnight. Large internet companies and ISPs would gradually gain more advantages through time, such as charging streaming providers for “fast-lanes” in order to deliver faster content.
“That becomes less egalitarian. It becomes more about the big players and less about everybody,” Carlson said.
Currently, there are a number of advocacy groups fighting against Pai’s proposal. Websites like savetheinternet.com and battleforthenet.com are urging the public to take action, and Reddit has been flooded with protests.
The FCC plans to vote on the proposal during its Dec. 14 meeting.