Decision to repeal net neutrality provokes scrutiny

Sonia Zaacks, Features Editor

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The Federal Communications Commission, also known as the FCC, voted to repeal net neutrality rules on Dec. 14, 2017, which were established in 2015 under former President Barack Obama’s administration. The repeal could potentially change the way internet service providers, also known as ISPs, distribute internet access.

Mark Bartholomew, professor of law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, said in a phone interview that net neutrality is the principle that ISPs must handle all websites and internet traffic equally. He likened net neutrality to airport TSA checkpoint lines. In the past, everyone would wait in the same TSA lines, but now there are people who can pay more to be in a different line with better, faster access to their flights. Similarly, prior to the net neutrality repeal, internet access was distributed equally, but now, customers who do not want to pay more for their current internet service may have limited access to certain sites.

The current FCC commission, whose chairman, Ajit Pai, was appointed by President Donald Trump, is 3-2 Republican, and the commission holds the power to repeal old net neutrality rules and regulate technological industries, according to Bartholomew.

He said one purported reason the FCC repealed the former rules was to eliminate federal regulations in hopes of stimulating innovation and competition between internet providers.

“The thought is, well, if you have too many government rules telling [ISPs] how they have to treat different websites and connectivity to those websites, they’ll say there’s too [many restrictions], and they won’t invest,” said Bartholomew. “So [the] government repealed these rules to get out of the way [in hopes of] seeing more investment.”

Chris Cato, technical director at Distant Horizon, a website development firm, said in a phone interview that net neutrality determines how consumers and businesses interact over the internet.

“If an internet service provider does not maintain a neutral network, they can do things like say, ‘You can use Facebook, but only if you pay extra money,’” Cato said.

In a phone interview, Zia Ahmed, technology services manager for Glenbrook High School District #225, said the repeal should not affect internet usage for people living in or around large cities.

“It’s going to affect people living in remote areas where they do not have choices in terms of speed,” said Ahmed. “Living in a big city, I don’t think we are going to see an effect [on the school].”

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