The Reality Behind Net Neutrality

Julia Esposito ‘18
EE Staff Writer

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai presenting net neutrality policy.

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you may have heard two words come up a lot: net neutrality. There’s been a lot of talk about it on the Internet and in school classrooms. But what exactly is net neutrality? And what does it mean for us if we lose it?

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISP’s) cannot favor any specific sites or services on the Internet. This means that they must give access to all websites equally. Therefore, AT&T cannot just decide to make your favorite blog run at a slower speed than Netflix. Essentially, everything that is on the Internet, with net neutrality, is equally accessible by any Internet user. During Obama’s presidency, he and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed regulations to prevent ISP’s like Comcast and Verizon from manipulating internet traffic. On December 14th, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission under a new chairman, Ajit Pai, held a vote on undoing these regulations. In a 3-to-2 vote, the majority chose to repeal the previously upheld regulations.

Without net neutrality, ISP’s can make executive decisions on Internet speed for certain websites. They can make large Internet companies – such as Netflix or Google – pay more money if they feel they’re not pulling their weight so that their sites can run efficiently. This can also make it harder for smaller online businesses or blogs to be seen by Internet users. Smaller businesses may not be able to pay as much, and therefore, their sites may be forced to run at slower speeds. This essentially could influence what sites Internet users go on. If an internet service provider disagrees with a site’s content, they can inhibit people’s access to it. This can also have a negative effect on competition over the Internet. Some of these ISP’s have their own websites. Therefore, they can make their competition’s websites run at a slower speed than their own, influencing viewers to browse their channels more often than their competitor’s. Additionally, if larger companies, such as Netflix or Google, decided that they wanted an advantage over their competition, they could make a deal with ISP’s so that their content will stream at quicker speeds than their competition.

This will not only affect what you view, but also what you pay. Some experts predict that you may end up having to pay more for a faster Internet speed on certain sites. Jonathan Hill, the dean of the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University, says, “If you are a consumer, everyone is going to get to pay for the bronze, silver
and gold package…And if you don’t have the gold package, good luck catching up on Game of Thrones. It’s going to be a slower and more frustrating process.”

Proponents for the repeal argue otherwise. They believe that giving more freedom to ISP’s will end up benefiting the consumer. Ajit Pai believes that repealing it will promote competition and build more networks. ISP’s also argue that consumers will not see much of a change at all with the repeal of net neutrality, and that charging for faster service may allow them to invest money in better infrastructure giving people in rural areas better access to the Internet. They also believe that if certain larger companies are straining their networks more, then those companies should have to pay more for faster speeds on their sites. No matter your side in this argument, the debate is not over yet. Although the FCC has voted for net neutrality’s repeal, there are many people and organizations already filing lawsuits against it. Involved in the legal battle against the repeal is the Internet Association, which represents some of the biggest companies on the Internet. The repeal will also take time to go into effect, and Democrats in Washington are already calling for a bill to re-establish it.

Overall, the issue of net neutrality has become one of the most controversial ones in relation to the FCC. Only time will tell where this issue will go from here, whether net neutrality will be re-established, or whether it will be gone for good and the effects of the repeal will eventually be seen. What do you think of net neutrality? Should it be repealed in order to give more freedom to ISP’s, expand the network to rural areas, and possibly benefit the consumers, or should it be protected in order to prevent unfair advantages on the Internet and promote innovation?

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