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Net neutrality and you: What new internet regulations could mean for students

Image By: Cameron Graff

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to repeal so-called net neutrality rules, leaving many users, including students, concerned about their access to an open and equal internet experience.

First implemented by the Obama administration in 2015, so-called “net neutrality” regulations prevent internet providers from censoring, promoting or artificially slowing any online content, forcing broadband companies to treat all information and consumers equally.

Since being appointed by President Trump earlier this year, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has made his intention to pursue a repeal of these provisions clear, despite public approval of the rules sitting at a sky-high 83 percent, according to a recent University of Maryland survey.

“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia,” Pai said in a speech following the vote. “To the contrary, the Internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success.”

Pai argues that net neutrality, though often touted as a safeguard against corporate control of internet access, imposes regulations too burdensome and complex for smaller providers to effectively navigate, damaging the industry’s competitiveness.

Many critics remain skeptical, however, as large broadband companies have taken advantage of an unregulated internet in the past.

In 2014, Comcast, one of the largest internet providers in the nation, began artificially slowing Netflix services for its millions of users. This forced their customers to have to weather considerably longer loading times to access the popular streaming service, until Netflix finally agreed to pay Comcast for faster service.

Under net neutrality, broadband companies have been disallowed from creating these kinds of internet fast lanes, which would involve slowing general internet access to encourage consumers to purchase a faster, more expensive package.

“Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place?” dissenting FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement. “Because the public can plainly see that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC is handing the keys to the Internet — the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime — over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”

Due to the success and market control of a handful of companies, media conglomerates like NBC/Universal have also begun to control content companies of their own.

Some fear that these parent companies will soon be set free to provide advantages to their own content in the form of promotion and speed, while blocking or slowing the content of competitors.

This could translate into differentiable service access depending on who your broadband provider is and what deals they decide to strike. Twitter could, for example, end up being slower for Verizon customers than Comcast users and HBO could wind up costing more for anyone who isn’t using AT&T, etc.

In the long term, services like Netflix will likely survive, thanks to its widespread popularity and sizable financial resources. However, it is the popular services that spring up in the future that open internet advocates are most concerned about.

If newer, smaller content providers with the potential to make a big splash cannot foot the bill for faster service or a bigger spotlight, they may face serious disadvantages compared with established companies.

The new rules will not be rolled out immediately, as the FCC must still submit them to the Federal Register, nor will many of the most significant changes come overnight.

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