The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality regulations Dec. 14 in a 3-2 vote. The regulations were established during the Obama administration to ensure that all data would be treated the same by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), meaning that all information could be accessed with equal ease and speed without extra charge to companies or consumers. The repeal of these laws leaves consumers and developers in the hands of internet service providers (ISPs).
“The whole point of net neutrality is that you’re trying to prevent companies from discriminating [against] certain websites and data,” former FCC employee and Syracuse University media law and ethics professor Michael Park said. “Now the question is, [with the repeal of net neutrality, will] they favor their ‘own’ companies?”
For several weeks, content creators on sites like YouTube, Reddit and other online media outlets have openly expressed their support for upholding net neutrality. The biggest concern expressed by the opposition is that the throttling of data by ISPs will force consumers to pay more for higher speeds from certain websites.
“If I’m Comcast, and you’re a Comcast customer, and say you want to go on a Disney website, I might manipulate your access and speed to a Disney website because they’re a competitor,” Park said. “Then your ability to go on ESPN will slow down and eventually you won’t be a subscriber.”
Countries without codified net neutrality regulations have been and are currently affected by data throttling or obstruction on the part of ISPs.
In 2005, Canadian telecommunications company Telus blocked its subscribers from accessing a website managed by the Telecommunications Workers Union. At the time, workers from the union who were employed by Telus were on strike.
Portugal’s wireless carrier Meo offers packages that provides faster data to certain apps and websites, such as a messaging package for iMessage and Skype along with other messaging apps and a social package for apps like Facebook and Snapchat.
“Services you rely on every day would no longer be free,” App Dev Club President and computer engineering senior Joe Durand said. “Want to send some snaps? $2.99 a month. Use Google for email and storage? $12.99 a month. These things add up, particularly for a broke, Internet-centric college student.”
But individuals aren’t the only consumers of the Internet. Large institutions such as Cal Poly can expect to face rising costs as well.
“Students’ accessibility to the Internet would become a point of competition between universities, and Cal Poly would need to buy a high-access tier to stay competitive, leading to increased tuition rates,” Durand said.
This model can be dangerous not only because of rising costs, but because of the problems it creates for startups and software developers. Foremost in these problems is competition.
“If I have an idea for a new company, I can send my data wherever I want for free,” computer science professor John Clements said. “I don’t need to compete with existing large corporations to allow me to move my data back and forth.”
Clements equated the Internet without net neutrality for software developers to a producer trying to get a new show on cable television. With existing major applications and websites able to pay off ISPs so their data is not throttled, startups would struggle to have their content accessible to all consumers equally.
“For instance, in cable, say I had an idea for a program and I wanted to put my program on cable,” Clements said. “I can’t do that — you’re talking to lawyers and content providers and the answer is generally no. With the Internet, you can make your content available to anyone for a very low charge, and without net neutrality, it will be like cable.”
Durand voiced the same concerns in a statement issued to Mustang News by the App Dev Club, a club at Cal Poly centered around building applications.
“From an app developer’s perspective, it would be a nightmare,” Durand said. “You would have to negotiate with every cellular company to make sure your users’ phones can talk to your servers.”
For the aspiring software developers in the White Hat Club, a campus organization focused on Internet and computer security, the threats to accessible information are what will lead to further issues down the line.
“The first expansion of the Internet was to universities in order to foster communication and education,” White Hat president and computer science senior Max Zinkus said. “That sort of open connectedness is critical to do things like research, explore [and] learn in a collegiate and software developing department.”
Security concerns are another big issue raised by supporters of net neutrality, given that consumers would not know their data is being throttled or logged by ISP’s unless it is already stated otherwise.
“Having control over what you can access automatically means they can log what sites you access, and odds are they aren’t doing it securely,” Durand said. “Hackers could access your data and steal information.”
The FCC has argued the money ISP’s will generate from rolling back net neutrality regulations will allow them to provide the necessary infrastructure to bring the Internet to more users nationwide. However, opponents say there are no real grounds to this claim.
“We made a decision about 25 years ago to regulate Internet and data in a different way than we regulate other services,” Clements said. “We allow companies to have monopolies and the goal with that was exactly what the other companies are saying now.”
Despite this, the United States is far behind other developed countries in having the fastest mobile Internet speeds, ranking only 28th in a report by American content delivery network Akamai.
“The idea was that if we give this money back to the providers they’re going to come up with incredible new technologies,” Clements said. “So it’s been 25 years and it didn’t happen. It was a lie.”