On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Ajit Pai, formally announced plans to repeal landmark Obama-era regulations that ensure equal access to the internet and equal treatment of all online content by Internet Service Providers, or ISPs. This new plan would allow ISPs to slow down or stop access to certain websites and would allow for “paid prioritization,” or the ability for customers to pay for higher-speed and higher-quality streaming. ISPs would also be able to block websites and content that they do not want users to see.
Mr. Pai outlined the reformed plan explicitly per the New York Times.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”
Telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon claim that current net neutrality regulations prevent them from offering their customers a selection from a wide variety of access packages at different price points. However, large internet companies such as Google and Amazon caution that repealing net neutrality would award ISPs the role of “gatekeepers” of information and entertainment.
Here’s an example. Barring net neutrality, an ISP such as Comcast could partner with a major entertainment company such as Netflix. Netflix would pay Comcast so that users would have a higher quality experience using Netflix on a Comcast server, but a lower quality experience using, say, Hulu on a Comcast server. This would encourage more users to make the switch to Netflix.
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Gutting net neutrality would have significant negative implications for small businesses, consumers and particularly university students.
The University of Wisconsin’s Mission Statement affirms that the university aims to “generate new knowledge through a broad array of scholarly, research and creative endeavors, which provide a foundation for dealing with the immediate and long-range needs of society.” UW’s mission statement is not dissimilar to those from other universities around this country.
From the University of California Los Angeles: “UCLA is committed to academic freedom in its fullest terms: We value open access to information, free and lively debate conducted with mutual respect for individuals, and freedom from intolerance.”
From New York University: “NYU seeks to…ensure a wide range of perspectives, including international perspectives, in the educational experience.”
Coast to coast, American universities are committed to providing their students with total access to information and resources in order to provide them with a comprehensive education. Repealing net neutrality would not allow us as students the “broad array” of endeavors that we should have, and that our schools want us to have.
If ISPs could have the ability to encourage TV show fanatics to choose one streaming service over another, they would certainly have the ability to limit the access to educational resources that we need. College is supposed to be about broadening horizons and learning about anything, but we can’t do that with “Big Net” breathing down our necks.
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Furthermore, with paid prioritization, large companies like Netflix and Hulu would certainly have no problem paying to keep their websites running at high quality. However, smaller websites, like many used for access to educational resources, may not have the money to pay for the upkeep of websites. This would limit the access that we, as students, would have to information.
As part of paid prioritization, some of the costs of use may fall on us, the consumers. Cost of internet use would no longer be considered a utility, and dismantling net neutrality would drive the cost of consumption up significantly. This would make accessing online educational resources more difficult for lower-income students. With an already sky-high cost of attendance, college should not be getting any more expensive and creating a situation in which it does only makes post-secondary education increasingly inaccessible.
Lastly, the repeal of regulations on net neutrality would make it harder on students once they graduate. ISP’s ability to throttle web traffic would mean that larger scale companies would get priority speed and quality, while small businesses get left in the dust.
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Net neutrality allows all companies, no matter how big or small, to have equal access to the internet. Repealing it would lead to crushing small businesses and startups. Entrepreneurship is already a difficult field, and this would make it much harder. This would have a significant impact on university students because it would drive students into the larger corporate world, instead of pursuing smaller non-profits, starting their own companies or contributing to society through supporting small businesses. Student post-graduation options would be limited which again is counter to universities’ goals to cultivate citizens who can contribute meaningfully to society.
If net neutrality does get repealed, we as students should put an onus on the university to do what it can to lessen the blow of the corporate regulation. The university has an obligation to us to uphold its mission statement and provide us with opportunities to “generate new knowledge through a broad array of scholarly, research and creative endeavors,” so it is important that the university uphold that statement even in the face of capitalist control.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying math and Chinese.