In 2015, the Obama Administration adopted rules to preserve the Internet as a free and open space. The rules specifically clarified that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are to be treated as public utilities and that all broadband internet providers enable access to all content and applications equitably and not block, slow, or otherwise unfairly discriminate against any websites or online services. Net Neutrality did not change the Internet in any specific way. Rather, it preserved the internet as what is always has been – a place to share and access information without interference.
Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, who previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon, plans to eliminate these Net Neutrality rules and give more discretion to ISPs. The FCC board will vote on the proposal on December 12. The specific language of the rules to be voted on is expected to be released sometime during the week of Thanksgiving.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities argue that without Net Neutrality regulations in place, ISPs “have financial incentives to interfere with the openness of the internet in ways that could be harmful to the internet and content and services provided by educational institutions.”[i] Essentially, ISPs would be able to sell prioritized and faster transmission to certain entities that pay them extra fees, effectively giving the companies the power to discriminate against customers and online material from sites that cannot pay the extra fees.
Public entities like colleges and universities that would not be able to afford to pay the extra fees for prioritized access could be pushed to the slow lane, making it more difficult for students and faculty to conduct research or finish assignments in a timely fashion. The lack of bandwidth capacity is already a problem on many college campuses, with 50 percent of university IT departments being unable to adequately supply bandwidth to campus residential networks.[ii] This problem with bandwidth is exacerbated by the fact that IT Departments are usually one of the first places to experience budget cuts when the federal and state governments cut funding for higher education.[iii] Because of this, repeal of Net Neutrality could put many colleges and universities into a position of having to increase tuition just to keep Internet speeds for their students and faculty tolerable.
The extra fees that ISPs would have the power to charge would also apply to individual sites as well. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, educational research sites and online library catalogs can be slowed down by the new rules because they would be unable to pay the fast lane fees.[iv] The Association pointed out that Netflix has already begun negotiations with Comcast and Verizon concerning the fees they would pay to be part of the fast lane. Small college websites and online journals and databases will not have the same kind of negotiating power that sites like Netflix and Facebook have, placing them at a major disadvantage.
With the plan expected to be officially released later this week, students should call their Congressman and Senators letting them know what the repeal will mean for them. At the same time, remind them to vote against the tax bill too!
[i] Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. (July 10, 2014). “Net Neutrality Principles.” Retrieved from http://www.aplu.org/members/councils/governmental-affairs/CGA-library/net-neutrality-principles/file.
[ii] Jaschik, S. (March 23, 2012). “Residential Bandwidth Access.” Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/content-overload-or-running-empty-bandwidth.
[iii] Straumsheim, C. (October 26, 2016). “Still Waiting for Recovery: Campus computing survey finds lingering IT budget issues dating to the financial crisis colliding with demands for new technology and services.” Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/10/26/survey-finds-ongoing-budget-issues-it-offices-following-financial-crisis.
[iv] Association of College and Research Libraries. “Keeping up with Net Neutrality.” Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/net_neutrality.