Reversing Net Neutrality Comes With a Cost, Experts Say

The FCC, with Chairman Ajit Pai now at the helm, believes the commission overstepped with the 2015 rules.

by Samantha Madison, Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. / May 31, 2017
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(TNS) -- With the Federal Communication Commission's recent vote to consider reversing net neutrality rules, many might be wondering how that could affect their lives.

Net neutrality has a handful of functions, but its main function is to keep internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking content users may want to access, said Sherry Lichtenberg, principal for telecommunications research and policy at National Regulatory Research Institute.

"There will no longer be protection for blocking access to websites you want to go to or having carriers favor their own sites or browsers over the one you want to go to," she said. "It takes away the protection, essentially, that allows you to do whatever you want on the internet."

That's one take on things, but the FCC, with Chairman Ajit Pai at the helm, believes the commission overstepped with the 2015 rules. The FCC's notice of proposed rule-making, which was adopted May 18, said the decision to apply utility-style regulation to the internet represented a "massive and unprecedented shift in favor of government control of the internet."

The order to classify the internet as Title II put online investment and innovation at risk, the FCC said in the notice.

Its biggest concern is that over the past two years, investment in broadband networks declined and service providers have pulled back on plans to build new infrastructure.

Another of the commission's biggest concerns over net neutrality is online privacy, which is supposed to be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Lichtenberg called the rule a way to restore internet freedom is misleading — in fact, the ruling would be the opposite.

"It's allowing the big ISPs — Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter — to have the option of deciding how your online experience would work," she said. "There are some instances where this actually happened in the past and the fight has been about, 'Well, it's not happening now, so everything is going to be fine.' But it's sort of like taking a vaccine so you won't get measles; hopefully, no one will get measles, but you still want the vaccine. So that is why the net neutrality rules are important."

The commissioners are not all in agreement that reversing net neutrality is a good idea. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn disagrees, while Pai and Commissioner Michael O'Rielly want to see the rules reversed.

Clyburn recognizes the internet as a necessity in 2017 and said in her statement that the decision to reverse the open internet rules would harm consumers' abilities to run online businesses, access content and exercise free speech without the service provider or anyone else getting in the way.

"Today's notice of proposed rule-making, more appropriately known as the Destroying Internet Freedom NPRM, deeply damages the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition in the 21st century," Clyburn's statement said. "It contains hollow theory of trickle-down internet economics, suggesting that if we just remove enough regulations from your broadband provider, they will automatically improve your service, pass along discounts from those speculative savings, deploy more infrastructure with haste and treat edge providers fairly."

While Pai doesn't disagree that the internet is an essential tool for participating in the modern world, he believes the success of the internet comes from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that aimed to preserve the free market that existed for the internet.

"As a result of these rules, small ISPs faced new regulatory burdens associated with common carrier compliance," said Pai in a statement. "Innovative providers hoping to offer their customers new, even free services had to feat a Washington bureaucracy that might disapprove and take enforcement action against them. With the possibility of broadband rate regulation looming on the horizon, companies investing in next-generation networks hesitated to build or expand networks, unsure of whether the government would let them compete in the free market."

©2017 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.