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Dec 3 / Erin Vader

Net Neutrality: Regulating Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Written by Claire Cheng

The net neutrality debate is both complicated and controversial and has intensified since President Obama made a direct statement to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the independent agency to protect net neutrality, keep the Internet “open and free” and regulate the Internet as a utility to protect consumers.  In January 2014, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s previous rules for net neutrality, prompting the commission to search for new regulatory rules.

Essentially, there are two arguments: there are net neutrality supporters who say that Internet service providers should be regulated as utilities and that net neutrality principles have encouraged innovation and created millions of jobs; on the other hand, there are those who are against regulation and claim that net neutrality will harm consumers and the economy and that IPS will create an incentive to innovate and create jobs, and will be subject to heavy-handed government bureaucracy and control.

Currently, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Verizon and Comcast, and cable companies can give preferential treatment to sites by giving certain companies a fast lane over their network, while blocking or intentionally slowing down traffic for others. Some consumer advocacy groups call for the regulation of Internet service providers to offer paid prioritization to those who can afford the high costs for doing business on the Internet, rather than making all traffic be treated equally.  This means that regardless of your Internet connection at home, your ISP can decide, for example, it wants to give priority bandwidth to Netflix, rather than YouTube.

In a major dispute between an Internet service provider and a content provider, Comcast charged Netflix extra for premium access to its video-streaming services, ensuring that a higher fee would guarantee Netflix’s programs would play properly on all networks.  Netflix subscribers saw evidence of videos loading faster for Comcast subscribers.  It may seem at first the consumer is benefiting from increased web speed to Netflix, but what about consumers who don’t use Netflix?

Net neutrality advocates say if you prefer to deal with another company, like a streaming video startup, you will have to deal with slower speeds. Unfortunately, an unregulated online environment means that giant ISPs monopolize the internet and and reduce the inherent equality of the Internet  by charging a toll to companies to have access to an “Internet fast lane.”  These giant ISPs would be able to afford the large toll that new startups could not, thus undermining the competition that has driven the American technology sector for a long time.

Claire Cheng expects to graduate with an MLIS degree from Wayne State University in May 2015. She is interested primarily in digital libraries and records management. Currently, she works as the Circulation Lead and Assistant Project Manager at the U.S. EPA Region 9 Superfund Records Center in San Francisco, CA.

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