The Centurion

Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality

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Mike Vigilante and Sydne Patchell, Centurion Staff

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When President Trump took office in January of this year he
brought with him a philosophy of deregulation and dismantlement
into Washington, including a plan to eliminate net neutrality, or a
free and open Internet.

Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer and FCC Commissioner
under President Obama, was named Chairman of the FCC by
President Trump in Jan. 2017 and immediately began working to do
away with net neutrality rules put in place by the previous administration
three years ago.

In a statement, Pai pontificated on a bygone era of internet regulation,
saying that “For almost 20 years, the Internet thrived under
the light touch regulatory approach … This bipartisan framework
led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications
networks throughout the United States. And it gave us
an Internet economy that became the envy of the world.”

However, in the eyes of many, the Internet, over the last 20
years, aided by the advent of smartphones in our pockets, has
shifted from a mere novel privilege for the rich to a right that all
Americans should have the ability to enjoy. Shawn Queeney, a 49-year-old
communications professor from Pennsburg, defines net-neutrality
as “the Internet as we know it—anyone who wants it has access
to it.”

“I can’t help but feel some important voices are not heard as we
craft these rules that might end up hurting this important industry,”
he continued. Regulations should not be based on the 20th century
model we used for utilities…. But I just don’t have a lot of faith in
the free market to sort it all out.”

The concept of net neutrality is a simple one, yet one that still remains
somewhat absent from the public lexicon and understanding,
despite multiple attempts over the years to repeal the rules put in
place in 2015. Put simply, net neutrality is the
assumed expectation of freedom we have when we surf the
internet.

Under current net neutrality rules, internet service providers
(ISP’s) cannot speed up or slow down (throttle) any content you
wish to access on the internet. Without these rules, consumers
are at risk to actually pay more for less Internet.

At the core of the fight for net neutrality is Title II of the Federal
Communications Act of 1934 – the legal foundation for 2015’s
Open Internet Order establishing rules restricting ISP’s.

Title II of the Communications Act concerns “common utilities,”
or things like landlines, electricity and pipelines that give the FCC
the ability and the legal authority to enforce net neutrality rules.

Prior to the Open Internet Order of 2015, Internet service was classified
under Title I as an information service.

Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer
at Comcast, David L. Cohen, praised the proposal and stressed
the difference, or lack of correlation, between Title II status
and net neutrality, calling Title II an “outdated regulatory regime,
[harming] investment and innovation, and not at all necessary
to guarantee consumers an Open Internet.”

However, without Title II status, the FCC would lack the legal
footing needed to enforce ISP’s to obey by Net Neutrality laws.
If the order is gutted or the title reclassified, Internet providers
could become de-facto arbiters of free speech on the internet; only
promoting content they approve of, while stifling content they
don’t or are in competition with. Moreover, internet providers
could partition your internet access, shifting away from the
utility model currently used and more towards a regulatory model.

Companies like Comcast and Verizon, instead of charging a
flat fee for internet access, would charge you separately for website
access, streaming, gaming, etc.

In a statement, FCC Chairmen Ajit Pai railed against what he
described as a party-line vote that, in his words, “depressed investment
in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred
innovation.”

In reality, however, Chairman Pai’s proposal adds uncertainty
to customers and actually stifles innovation by allowing broadband
providers to charge tolls to access
their customers.

Jennifer Martyn, an 18-year-old student from Chalfont, says, “I
think they should not do it [deregulate net neutrality]. I understand
why the FCC would want to try and innovate the Internet, but
I know my mom wouldn’t pay more for the services we already
have.”

Amie Rickert, a student from Levittown, added, “I think that the
new changes won’t make much of a difference besides just paying
a little more each month.” She also says that she’d rather not pay
more because she pays her own bills and the new regulations are
potentially likely to increase rates of companies.

In response to Pai’s proposal, Mignon Clyburn, a FCC Commissioner
appointed by President Obama, firmly cemented her position
against Pai’s proposal as “an unwavering champion of robust,
bright-line net neutrality rules that protect consumers against
the anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices of broadband
providers.”

Clyburn, in a point-by-point “fact sheet” released by her office,
also scrutinized the proposal that “Enables offerings that favor the
vertically integrated broadband provider’s own content and services
over those of consumers and innovators who rely on the Internet
to grow their own businesses and stay informed.”

Chairman Pai’s proposal would also shift the burden of enforcement
from the FCC over to FTC, a federal agency that has never
enforced net neutrality protections and would now be tasked with
managing consumer complaints – effectively stripping the teeth
from the FCC, leaving them no recourse for wronged business or
consumers.

In 2015, public outrage helped to win key victories for Net Neutrality,
and in 2018, the same outrage is needed if a truly free and
open Internet is to be preserved.

The Restoring Internet Freedom Order will be voted on at the
FCC’s Open Meeting on Dec. 14.

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Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality