Remember back in 2014 when Comcast was caught slowing down the connection of Netflix streaming? Or when AT&T started sponsoring data? Popular mobile apps started paying AT&T so the provider wouldn’t drain your data plan while you used it. Some called it “pay-to-play” technology, giving bigger companies with more money an unfair advantage over start-ups and small businesses. The 2015 net neutrality laws were put in place to stop that, ensuring equal access to the internet.
Here’s how it works. Right now, there are three broadband providers: AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. You, the user, pay a monthly fee to access everything available via internet like email, gaming, social networks and video streaming, for example, think Netflix or Hulu. Proponents of net neutrality laws are concerned those services could become tiered by charging separate prices for separate platforms, or speed and access could be limited all together.
“A perfect example — Verizon is one of the largest internet service providers. They own Yahoo, Yahoo has a search engine. Could Verizon prioritize Yahoo over Google? Under net neutrality rules, you cannot,” said Seton Hall University Associate Professor of Marketing Daniel Ladik.
Ladik says he can see the upside to the FCC’s push for a free market. But, there needs to be a guaranteed, basic level of service for consumers.
“By removing the net neutrality laws that are currently in place, there is no checks and balance on the internet service providers. They have the ability to do what they want to do, what’s in their own best interest,” said Ladik.
“We’re very, very concerned this will create sort of two lanes of traffic for the internet,” said Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association.
Actually, that’s the concern among all chapters of the American Library Association. Libraries were the first and remain the foundation for free access to information.
“Libraries are going to have to make choices in terms of whether they provide the highest level of internet or buy books. It will become a cost factor in libraries in terms of how they provide services to their public,” said Tumulty.
As a former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell sees the changes as beneficial to the market.
“Once these rules are rolled back, it is a misconception that somehow internet service provides are going to be frustrating consumer demand, or slowing down speeds, or blocking websites. There are laws already on the books like the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, the Federal Trade Commission Act and other laws that prevent that from happening. That’s anti-competitive conduct. If it were to happen, which harms consumers, they would be punished for it severely and that’s why it hasn’t happened,” he said.
McDowell supports Chairman Ajit Pai’s stance claiming the Obama administration overstepped boundaries imposing the rules and stagnated the market.
“Even though the FCC is saying we don’t need special rules on this, they are requiring that providers be clear in their terms of service, that they don’t block or they don’t throttle internet traffic. By the FCC acting as it is, they are allowing the Federal Trade Commission to be the cop that does consumer protection on privacy, backed up by the Department of Justice and state agencies that have general consumer protection laws,” said USTelecom Senior Vice President of Law and Policy Jonathan Banks.
Either way, most experts agree Thursday’s vote won’t be the end. This fight is likely to end up in the courts for the judicial system to decide.