Net Neutrality will reach a milestone Feb. 26, when the FCC will vote on the future of the Internet itself.
The discussion, which has been nearly a decade long, is expected to get some clarity about whether the Internet is a free, open platform or a marketable commodity. Public support for the bill has been noted, with over 4 million public comments and numerous protests set up over the past year as a culmination approaches.
Saturday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has come under fire for his ties to Comcast, tweeted out his support of the bill. “It’s time to put in place rules to preserve the #OpenInternet that has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. #TitleII” The tweet read.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
As of now, the Internet is similar to a telephone. One phone call can’t take precedence over another based on bias. The Net Neutrality bill hopes to reclassify the World Wide Web under Title II, where telecommunications have sanctuary from similar treatment. This means cable providers, like Time Warner and Comcast, wouldn’t have a say in how it’s run, much to the delight of Steve Compton, a Cincinnati resident who works with technology.
“It’s not just about the speed, it’s about the content,” Compton said. “If I want to use the web in it’s entirety, I’m going to have to pay a premium for it. And that’s not the Internet we know.”
If Net Neutrality were to fail, “fast lanes” could be put in for a premium price, meaning those who could afford it will be given an advantage over young upstarts or those who can’t pay, which some worry will stifle competition.
“Net Neutrality is the ability to have a level playing field, regardless of your capital,” Chris Strobel, an electronic media and broadcast professor, said. “This really means, ‘We’re all created equal, unless someone pays more.’”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR STUDENTS
“Net neutrality ensures that content providers won’t be “choked off” in favor of ‘preferred’ corporate content partners,” said Pam Fisher, an NKU journalism professor and former editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Imagine a world in which Comcast, a $50 billion media conglomerate and broadband provider, chokes off bandwidth of news providers not in its corporate portfolio — for example TimeWarner’s CNN news channel. No problem — you’ll just Hulu it? Not so fast, Comcast owns Hulu.”
Student life, depending on the FCC’s ruling, could be affected two-fold.
First is the possible reshaping of the Internet into something more like cable television, where you may have a basic package of channels, but to get premium channels, like HBO or Showtime, you’ll pay for it. This translates into purchasing a social media package to access Twitter and Facebook, or a monthly bill to use Wikipedia and Sparknotes to help finish that paper due next week.
“People who oppose this are opposed so that those who are richer, and have more opportunities, don’t get a different Internet than we do,” Jared Rabinowitz, a coworker of Compton’s, said.
Second, if companies like Netflix and Spotify are being charged extra to have their content put out at the speeds we expect, those costs will be passed on to the user. The idea is far from a hypothetical, as it’s already happened. Netflix raised their monthly fee last year from $7.99 to $8.99 after signing an agreement with Comcast to put in a fast lane to avoid the buffering many customers had been plagued with. Netflix then joined Reddit, Tumblr, Etsy and more for “Internet Shutdown Day” back in September, purposely slowing their websites to warn users of things to come, and the dangers of not fighting back. Most had contact info for the user’s local Congress representatives and a script to recite to let them know the importance of Net Neutrality in a civil manner.
“For me, it just seems like greed,” said Bobby Blank, a Business Administrations freshman. “The cable companies are having tv run out by people like Netflix, and people are fast forwarding through commercials with DVRs, and they’re just trying to find a new way to make up the money.”
What this all could mean to students is paying more for the internet because there’s no competition between providers, paying more to access programs that are paying more to let you access them, and waiting on loading screens for sites that couldn’t pay up.
Opposition to Net Neutrality
There are some that see the Internet more like the Postal Service. You can get the standard rate and wait five to seven business days for your package, or you can pay a premium price to FedEx and have it overnighted. Still others see it as a utilities bill: those who use more should pay more. They are in agreement that a blanket price, while convenient, is not fair.
Others argue that more government regulation isn’t the answer. The root issue is the lack of competition that inflates prices, and all that giving the government the right to more regulation will accomplish is letting them monitor the telecoms’ and cable companies’ broadband connections, much how they can police phone calls. This raises the concern of giving “Big Brother” more power over the public.
Both sides can agree the lack of choices is concerning. Most regions in America get to choose from one of five major cable corporations, with some cities lucky enough to have a second, local option, like Cincinnati Bell.
Whether the answer is regulation, no regulation, or a compromise in between isn’t clear-cut yet.
“If you want to not be evil, if you have the best interest of the people, Net Neutrality is a vital resource for the future,” Strobel said.