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The Effects of Net Neutrality - Dinner Table to Global Ramifications

Updated on March 19, 2018

This paper attempts to break down the current hot topic of network neutrality [phrase coined by Tim Wu in his 2003 paper] into layman’s terms by discussing its history, along with the local and global ramifications. Net neutrality is defined as the principle that all content on the Internet should be equally accessible to all people. While this issue is currently pending implementation in Washington D.C. unless the December 14, 2017 FCC (Federal Communications Commission) actions are overturned, this paper seeks to review the effects that the United States’ decision in this matter will have on the countries who look to the United States for modeling in setting their policies. This paper will also explore how the FCC changes, if implemented, will impact our internet access in our homes, businesses, governments, and on campus.

The FCC regulations adopted in 2010 were designed to preserve an open Internet. The intent was that all websites and content would be equally accessible and available for review by any information seekers. They were meant to protect consumer ability to choose the applications and services they wanted, along with the content that they could access, create, and share with others. These regulations were deemed necessary to prevent monopolies and limitations that had been in effect decades earlier, prior to 1984 when the Bell Telephone Company monopoly of AT&T was broken apart. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was used to break the former government-supported monopoly of Bell Telephone, which had been established 100 years earlier in 1885. The FCC regulations of 2010 also intended to preserve the equal rights of consumers for speed in access. For example, streaming videos from a commercial provider such as Netflix, would have no preference in speed and ease over streaming the videos posted on a blog from family vacations. A CNN video on this subject likened the internet to highways. Net neutrality keeps the roads open for all. The FCC December ruling will allow providers the freedom to charge tolls for fast lanes. They could make our internet service options tiered like our cable options, costing us more for faster service and greater access. This could lead to the demise of smaller companies and start-ups, which wouldn’t have the budgets to be included. Providers could block or slow down access to online content. They could also prioritize their own content. For example, imagine that your family uses a service such as Comcast for its Internet service. If Instagram was just purchased by Verizon, an opposing Internet service provider, and you wanted to access Instagram using your Comcast connection, you could have to pay an additional monthly service charge. If you were using your university web access to research a paper, you might have different search results at the top of your query than someone at another university using the same search query with a different internet service provider.

At its worst, the FCC reversal could limit news and purchasing options for the poor who may be unable to afford the tiered access of the wealthy. If other nations mirror the United States’ decision to rescind internet rules, the effects could segregate access by consumer income levels in global proportions. The current status of the December 14, 2017 reversal is that the Senate now has 60 legislative days to find one Republican to join the 49 Democrats and one Republican who oppose the FCC ruling. They need 51 votes to support the resolution to restore the old net neutrality rules by reversing the December decision. Those seeking to challenge the FCC in court have been filing lawsuits since February. All petitions filed within the first 10 days following the vote being published in the Federal Register last month (February 2018) are considered to be filed simultaneously. The rush, in part, is to determine which court will hear the case against the FCC. Some courts are more lenient to the cause than others. The hope is to have the lottery of courts in the pool of possible court venues sympathetic to the reversal of the December decision. The earliest this might be resolved is April 2018, when the 60-day period ends. This author suspects that the issue will remain as a dispute into summer and fall, as we face an election year for many who are in positions to take a stand.

References:

Fromm, Megan, Ph. D. (2015). How Policy and Profit Shape Content. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. (ISBN 978-1-4777-8064-0)

Goldsmith, Jack L., and Tim Wu (2006). Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford UP (ISBN 0195152662, ISBN 978-0-19-515266-1)

Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Knopf (ISBN 0307269930, ISBN 978-0-307-26993-5)

Wu, Tim (2016). The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads. New York: Knopf (ISBN 978-0-385-35201-7)

Websites:

Beattie, Andrew, (Updated Feb. 16, 2018) www.investopedia.com Why is the 1982 AT&T breakup considered one of the most successful spinoffs in history?

Fiegerman, Seth (December 14, 2017). www.money.cnn.com Trump’s FCC Votes to repeal Net Neutrality.

Fung, Brian (February 22, 2018) www.washingtonpost.com The FCC’s vote repealing its net neutrality rules is finally official. Here’s what happens now.

Wu, Tim (2003). Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law, Vol. 2, p. 141, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=388863 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.388863

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