Net Neutrality Repeal Could Change Online Experience

Dec 14, 2017

Editor's Note: We are re-posting this story, originally aired August 10, 2017, after the FCC voted today to repeal the so-called "net neutrality" rules that regulate businesses that connect consumers to the internet. You can read more about today's vote in this NPR story.

A recent vote by the federal government could bring real changes to anyone using a computer. The proposal would roll back net neutrality and create internet fast lanes for owners of websites willing to pay more. NSPR's Nolan Ford talked with consumer advocates, internet service providers and tech companies here in the North State about the potential impacts of new legislation.

Net neutrality is the current law requiring that internet service providers or ISPs offer equal access to every web page without favoring or blocking particular ones. In 2014, comedian John Oliver put net neutrality in the spotlight on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.

"Yes, net neutrality, the only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are ‘featuring Sting'," joked Oliver.

At the time, the Federal Communications Commission was considering rules allowing ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon to offer fast and slow lanes to content providers like Netflix and Hulu.

Oliver directed his audience to the FCC’s website, which was then flooded with millions of comments opposing the repeal. After a recommendation from then-President Barack Obama, the FCC reclassified ISPs as a telecommunications service, which in the end preserved net neutrality.

But a new push for rollbacks began soon after President Trump’s inauguration.

In May, the now Republican-controlled FCC voted 2-1 to repeal net neutrality, reigniting the controversy. Sonic is a regional, Santa Rosa-based ISP. CEO and co-founder Dane Jasper says an online environment without network neutrality could affect your experience on the web.

"As a consumer you can buy a 25 megabyte internet connection, but then what's on the other end won't go that speed because maybe they haven't paid the fee on the other side," said Jasper. "And that is a real, I would argue, inappropriate treatment of the internet services that consumers want to get to - the reason that they're paying a subscription fee to get on the internet."

Wendy Porter is the managing director of Chicostart, an organization offering resources to entrepreneurs and innovators trying to break into the tech industry. She says repealing net neutrality would create an uneven playing field for startup companies.

"If we get rid of this, of these regulations, our startups wouldn't necessarily have the ability to get access to their global markets and get their products out there and when we can't have the ability to disrupt an existing market, that's where we could have some serious blocks I guess you could say," said Porter.

One of Chicostart's graduates is Compini, an organizational feedback platform based in Chico. Patrick Carroll is co-founder of the company and shares similar concerns as Porter.

"Changes to net neutrality laws, anything that gets rid of net neutrality would I think in very short order tip the scales in very large favor of the larger companies; that is Amazon, Youtube, others who can pay the providers so they can have other sites potentially throttled or even restricted," he said.

But some ISPs, though in favor of a free and open internet, feel that the current net neutrality laws go too far.

Mark Radabaugh is the FCC chairperson for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association or WISPA, a trade group representing more than 800 smaller providers including Chico’s Digital Path and Oroville’s Calpine Communications. His organization disagrees with the existing law that classifies the internet as a telecommunications service.

"We'd like to see a return to the rules in place prior to 2015 when the internet was classified as an information service. Many of the title II requirements take a lot of time and effort to comply with including costs," said Radabaugh. "That's not a big deal if you're a gigantic cable provider or a giant telecom provider having to hire another hundred lawyers and fifty clerks to fill out paperwork isn't a big deal for them. But for a small provider that's a really big problem [that] just reduces competition overall and hurts the consumers."

For the next week, the FCC is once again accepting comments from the public regarding the proposed repeal. You can submit your comments by clicking this link and then clicking the button on the right side of the screen that says "+ Express."