What is Net Neutrality?

By Michael Hill

Everywhere you look in Upper Montclair, signs of a mobile world. Men and women attached to their smartphones and relying on an easy and strong access to the internet.

But, ask them if they know what net neutrality is and this is what you get.

“I don’t think so. I read the headline but I didn’t read into it,” said one resident.

“I don’t think I can really answer,” said another.

Here’s one internet definition: net neutrality is the idea that internet service should be accessible to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Seton Hall University Associate Marketing Professor Dan Ladick explains it another way.

“In the U.S. where we have an individualistic culture, we’re used to paying more for better. We would not expect the same service level at Holiday Inn as we would at the Ritz Carlton. Well, right now, that’s kind of the model that’s happening,” he said.

President Obama says the internet has become so important, so essential in a modern world that the FCC should reclassify it like a utility — electricity, for example — and the government should regulate it.

“We expect whatever rules to emerge to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of internet,” said Obama.

Presidential appointee and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he’s taking the president’s plan under advisement.

Critics argue net neutrality will stifle creativity and could lead to companies charging much higher fees for some streaming services.

The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity say the president’s plan overreaches.

“Net neutrality is really a code word for government takeover of our internet. Last week historic repudiation of Obama at the polls. People are tired of him going around congress and trying to impose his will by executive fiat,” said Americans for Prosperity in New Jersey Communications Director Mike Proto.

Politics aside, Seton Hall’s Ladick says he understands the cable companies want to cover their costs of laying more broadband lines but keeping the costs down should be a higher priority.

“There’s too much of the cutting the cord happening now and the cable companies are losing just as many customers as they’re gaining because of the prices that they’re charging. It’s almost better to have a bigger number of customers and charge a smaller fee. I don’t think Walmart is struggling at all right now,” Ladick said.

Professor Ladick says the FCC traditionally is very pro-business so he’s eager to see how it will rule on net neutrality.