Uncertainty now clouds the future of the open internet after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations last week.
Implemented in February 2015, net neutrality bars data discrimination practices from internet service providers (ISPs). The policy, which legally obligates ISPs to treat all data equally, prevents throttled speeds or higher consumer charges regardless of platform or content.
Since its inception, net neutrality has faced an arduous legal battle. Many broadband providers dubbed the policy an authoritarian overreach and sued the FCC, arguing increased regulation would harm their businesses.
Although the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the policy in a 2-1 vote last year, the FCC voted in May to begin rolling back regulations.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement, advocating revival of a free-market approach to broadband services. “Internet service providers [must] be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”
Opponents of the proposal worry that net neutrality rollback may cause widespread corporate abuse, granting ISPs the freedom to slow or block rivaling content in favor of preferred services.
In countries without net neutrality, like Portugal, telecommunications companies have the power to bundle data — like cable companies — and upcharge consumers for the content they wish to access.
Fourth-year information technology student Anthony Lieser says elimination of net neutrality principles opens the door to corruption.
“Net neutrality is essential,” Lieser said. “Once you get rid of [it], you give a lot of power to one or several beings … and then they can be really easily corrupted.”
Lieser highlighted the potential implications on small business, where online operations could be hindered by preferential treatment of larger competitors.
“I’m in the IT world, [and] I’ll be working with a software company,” Lieser said. “It would hinder the small company that I’ll be working for, because they’ll have to go by way more regulations and it could hurt heavily. Small companies need everything they can just to thrive and become larger.”
Monica Lam, a third-year pre-nursing student who works for a small family-owned business, echoed Lieser’s 0concerns.
“Rolling back on net neutrality would definitely hurt our company,” Lam said. “The ISP has the power to slow down our website … [and] the companies we service may decide to stop working with us if the cost of keeping in touch with us becomes more of an investment.”
Additionally, Lam underlined potentially higher costs for college students whose classes involve online coursework, saying proposed rollbacks would “monopolize internet service.”
“Many college courses are using different online programs for homework and assignments,” Lam said. “Students would have to pay for that particular program for a class, and pay extra just to access the website.”
Pai’s proposed rule changes are outlined in the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” released last week. On Dec. 14, the FCC will vote to either maintain net neutrality principles or begin rollback proceedings.