The End of Net Neutrality

In the months following the voting to repeal net neutrality (Dec. 14, 2017), social media and LVA students have been abuzz about what this means now for the future of the internet. Some wonder if they’ll now be unable to watch their favorite movies on Netflix while re-tweeting cute dog pictures on Twitter, and others wonder if their freedom of speech is now in jeopardy. The answer is probably not, but repealing net neutrality laws will have significant consequences for students, businesses, as well as anyone who relies on the internet for quick access to information. But what exactly is net neutrality, and how does the repeal of the laws many didn’t even know existed affect students?

Simply put, net neutrality is the belief in a “free and open internet” (under the Obama administration archives), and net neutrality laws were put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Obama administration to regulate internet providers so as to uphold this belief. These laws include prohibiting broadband services (DSL, cable modem, wireless, fiber, satellite, BPL) from preventing access to lawful websites, creating “fast” and “slow” lanes, and enforces greater transparency of internet providers. Understanding these regulations is crucial to understanding the importance of net neutrality.

The prohibiting of broadband services from preventing access to websites allows for access to all information and content (so as it is legal). The repeal of this law jeopardizes the integrity of the First Amendment- freedom of speech- because the internet provider would have the ability to ban a website containing content they disagreed with or just make it incredibly slow.

To encourage less traffic on the highway, carpool lanes are an incentive for drivers to hitch a ride with others so they can drive in the fast lane. Now apply this idea to the internet. Internet providers can create a “fast” line for those who are willing to pay more for a shorter loading time. Though the idea of fast lanes seem efficient for the road- for the internet, it can create unequal opportunities for small businesses and result in higher costs for consumers. For example, Netflix is a company with the ability to raise subscription fees to pay for faster internet access, but that won’t be the case for smaller streaming websites. Not only will costs rise, but this uneven playing field will lead to fewer options on the market for consumers.

Greater transparency allows for these internet providers to be held accountable for their actions and allows for people to carefully pick their providers. It ensures that they are following the rules listed above.

But repealing net neutrality may not be all that bad. On the FCC website, the board argues that these laws have prohibited innovation and once repealed, greater competition will lead to new ideas and ways to provide internet services. However, a polling done by the University of Maryland exhibits that most Americans disagree with the FCC’s decision, 83 percent of them.

The fight for net neutrality hasn’t ended yet; many states will attempt to block the repeal, and companies have promised to not slow down or throttle internet access. Citizens can also contact state representatives and even the FCC board to file a formal complaint letter.