FCC head ready to ban net neutrality
Ajit Pai, a native Kansan, has been named Commissioner of the FCC, and one of his primary goals is to do away with laws protecting net neutrality.
February 2, 2017
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What would you be willing to give up for faster, less expensive internet? What if the speed and cost only applied to certain websites? With President Trump’s Jan. 23 appointment of Ajit Pai to the role of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner, these hypotheticals may become real dilemmas to internet users throughout America.
Pai, a native of Parsons, Kansan, is against net neutrality, “the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis,” according to USA Today. Net neutrality prevents ISPs from charging money to certain websites in exchange for faster internet speeds.
Those in favor of net neutrality see this as a way of leveling the playing field and ensuring larger companies like Netflix or Facebook don’t buy up bandwidth, leaving very little for the little guys.
“For example, if Netflix paid million of dollars to have their videos load faster than others, people would flock to that service instead of the ones that loaded more slowly,” computer science teacher Alexa Varady said. “It would also make it much harder for smaller businesses to keep up with the amount of money larger companies could shell out, so competition would likely die out quickly.”
Another danger of the internet without net neutrality, according to Wired, is that, for example, “the Comcasts and Verizons of the world [could] be able to block Skype or other voice calling applications in order to advantage their own telephone services.” These larger media companies that are also ISPs could prevent users from accessing third-party apps that compete with their own programs by decreasing their bandwidth and/or requiring a fee to increase it.
However, detractors of this principle believe that the websites that currently take up more bandwidth should have to pay for upkeep. Then, the customers of the ISP who do not use that website essentially wouldn’t be paying for it anymore.
The difference in viewpoints lies within the principle of cause-and-effect. Those opposed see that some ISPs already use more bandwidth and should be charged accordingly, making the internet landscape more fair and even. Those who favor net neutrality, though, believe this model could lead to corruption, where larger companies who can afford to buy up expensive bandwidth will cut off the supply for smaller, less well-off websites.
“It’s a tricky subject, as with many controversial issues,” Varady said. “On paper, it looks like a good idea – ISPs could allocate resources in the most optimal way, instead of letting a small portion of people who use a lot of bandwidth “hog” the internet. But I think there are many ideas that look good on paper – it’s when they’re put into practice that things go wrong.”
The Open Internet Order, enacted in 2015, designates ISPs as “common carriers,” or “private companies that sell their services to all consumers without discrimination,” according to USA Today. Pai is looking to reverse this decision, having said in a speech Dec. 7 that the FCC needs to “fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.” The rules referenced include the classification of broadband as a “telecommunications service” rather than an “information service,” which allows the FCC to impose strict regulations on ISPs. In his view, reversing the current legislation would allow ISPs to charge websites for the bandwidth they require, rather than creating a loophole for websites to pay ISPs for more bandwidth. This would, in turn, let ISPs offer more options to their consumers, as well as protecting them from substantial FCC fees.
Pai spoke to a group of Kansas City entrepreneurs Oct. 11 as part of an event posted by Think Big Partners, a company focused on the growth of entrepreneurship. During this speech, Pai extolled the virtues of freedom of competition in terms of net neutrality.
“We have to promote more competition,” Pai said regarding the prevention of local governmental roadblocks. “And ultimately, we have to make more broadband more affordable and accessible to all Americans.”
But what would the reversal of the Open Internet Order mean for the average American? According to Varady, “things would definitely change a lot.”
“I think the worst case would be these changes happening gradually over time, so that the general population wouldn’t notice what was happening,” Varady said. “When a particular page is loading slowly, you blame the organization, not your ISP, right? That’s going to become a problem in the future, and I think people need to be educated on the difference.”