Talking about Net Neutrality is particularly difficult when there is misinformation everywhere these days. On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the net neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015. The vote to repeal came in despite overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet, as the FCC was clearly determined to move ahead with the repeal. Those rules prevented internet providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, from playing favorites by blocking or slowing down from any specific websites and apps. With those rules in place, those handful internet service providers were required to distribute internet access fairly and equally to everyone, regardless of how much they pay.
So what will the future look like without Net Neutrality? If this move is not challenged by the courts or overturned by Congress, it could radically change the way we access and use the internet- the implications of the repeal are vast and complicated. It gives even more power to already powerful group of telecom companies a great deal over what you can see and do online.
The move is supported by the internet service providers- as expected- which claims how the Net Neutrality regulations threaten to hamper broadband investments and innovation. On the other side, technology companies like Netflix have loudly protested the repeal efforts, both online and offline, arguing how the internet providers could block or slow down the internet speed and even start charging people to visit certain websites.
In 2011, for instance, after a 10-month long investigation, the FCC fined Verizon $1.25 million for blocking 11 Android Apps, after having found that Verizon did indeed violate Net Neutrality rules- which Verizon disputed the FCC’s claims. Not long after that investigation was over, Google Inc. reported that Verizon is restricting consumers’ ability to download and use Google Wallet, Mobile Payment App, on the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone.
At the same time, Verizon happens to be working together with AT&T and T-Mobile to build its own mobile payments app. It certainly looks like they did not want to help Google Wallet app get a leg up before launching its own. Coincidence?
To take a classic example, without Net Neutrality in place Comcast provider could either slow down a service like Netflix or it can try to squeeze Netflix to pay more to get access to the fast internet “lane” it needs. Either way, the cost trickles down to the customer. Comcast also recently announced to expand its own streaming service, Xfinity Instant TV service, that enables their customers to instantly stream their favorite movies and TV shows in and out of their home to multiple screens, online platforms and mobile devices. Similarly, other TV providers including Dish Network and AT&T have also started their own streaming services. It is hard to believe why these handful internet providers would not slow down a service like Netflix to make its own streaming video service more competitive. They could certainly start charging their competitors pay more to access their fast internet. Services like Netflix will then become expensive, whereas Comcast’s own streaming service now looks affordable- which is what they wanted all along. And without Net Neutrality rules that required service providers to distribute internet access equally and fairly, they are now free to do what Verizon did in 2011 with Google Wallet app.
Times have changed. We live in a world where access to information is a crucial element for learning and creating opportunities, and the internet is the main source, particularly for those who cannot afford alternatives. The impact of net neutrality repeal would be disastrous for public libraries and the people who rely on them. Already powerful internet providers will gain even more power to block or slow down the flow of online content that serves as the academic lifeblood for public libraries as well as libraries in the K-12 community. Educators rely heavily on technology in the classroom, so the net neutrality repeal could dramatically impact the way students learn.
Libraries remain to be a major source of information for millions- providing access to huge resources of knowledge, learning, and idea. As the digital world continues to evolve, libraries today are increasingly moving towards an online platform, using digital information and providing services in this digital environment. People who use public libraries to access the internet are generally low-income who can not afford their own internet connections. Making information and learning easy to access is fundamental to encouraging uptake, and means providing seamless, high-quality, low-cost (and at times no-cost) connectivity at home, at school, at work, on the move, and in public spaces like public libraries and research institutions. With Net Neutrality rules repealed, public libraries who can not afford to pay more for the same internet could be relegated to the slower-speed internet. They might also have to pay more to gain access to certain websites. All this would directly affect the people who need the free and open internet the most. The public can not risk losing access to important services provided by our libraries, our schools, and other public institutions. If anything, FCC should be defending the Net Neutrality.
Why would we want to give more power to already powerful internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast? It can be argued that they could, as they have in the past, violate the principles of Net Neutrality.
Assuming the move is not blocked by the courts or overturned by Congress, it could radically re-shape the internet by giving an already powerful group of telecommunications companies a great deal of control over what you can see and do online. It will also likely leave you with higher internet costs and fewer choices. In the end, it is people like you and me who pay the price.