Net neutrality: The benefit of the doubt

Haleigh McGill

Haleigh McGill
Haleigh McGill

Last week FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler revealed his proposal to reclassify the internet as a public utility, meaning that service providers like Comcast or Century Link would be regulated in accordance with Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. In essence, Internet service providers could not block content, speed up content delivery or slow it down.

At the heart of Wheeler’s plan is establishing net neutrality, a principle that allows for equal access to all content on the Internet. It calls on service providers to stop charging usage rates deferentially based on user, application, content, platform and other variables. In an online op-ed article published to Wired, Wheeler wrote, “Originally, I believed that the FCC could assure internet openness through a determination of “commercial reasonableness” under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.”

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I think net neutrality sounds like an ideal situation for consumers: not having to pay higher costs for access to faster internet or more interesting content. Everyone would appear to have the same advantage when it comes to using the Internet. It would mean that service providers couldn’t monopolize, which advocates for deregulation call “public-private cooperation,” and because of that competitive environment, I think innovation and investment would actually be encouraged. Startups who would otherwise find themselves at a financial disadvantage would actually stand a chance. John Oliver, supporter of net neutrality and the host of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” engaged in a 13-minute segment where he made several powerfully edgy remarks surrounding the issue, but also broke down some valid points.

“Net neutrality is actually hugely important,” Oliver said. “Essentially it means that all data has to be treated equally, no matter who created it. It’s why the Internet is a weirdly level playing field.” Oliver goes on to explain that net neutrality creates an innovative space for start-ups, and points out that it’s the reason companies like Facebook are able to supplant established brands like Myspace. He also suggests that one reason net neutrality is important is because it would prevent cable and internet companies from monopolizing and charging high prices for less-than-great service.

Arguments against establishing net neutrality mainly revolve around unwanted increases in taxes, discouraged investments and the general question of whether fair means equal in this case. An article from Forbes that discusses pros and cons of moving forward with net neutrality suggests that “the reality is a bit more complex” when it comes to fairness.

With all of this in mind, deciding for yourself if shifting to net neutrality is a good idea is a bit tricky. I agree with Oliver, because open Internet provides greater space for creativity and it generates a more competitive environment. However, I also think that over-regulation is a potential downfall that we should be aware of. It’s important to think critically about it, and if you have a strong opinion, you can let the FCC know. John Oliver’s segment led to an influx of approximately 47,000 comments in an FCC forum for open internet, and the server crashed. This proposal of net neutrality will be voted on by a five-member panel on Feb. 26.

Collegian Assistant Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.