Should you care about the latest FCC rules on net neutrality?

As a result of last week’s proposed FCC changes, there has been a rash of protest and discussion among the technology community about what it may mean to the Internet as we know it. But that concern seems to end there. The typical end user has had little exposure or even seems to care about what goes on beyond the walls of his home, and that is the lack of concern that large Internet providers are banking on.

What the most recent proposals will allow is the creation of “fast lanes” between edge content providers like Netflix, Hulu, & YouTube and their end consumers. Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast can go to Netflix and say essentially “if you want to pay us some extra money per subscriber, we will make certain your content gets to them faster and more reliably than your competitor.” They can then make that same speech to each provider of similar content, and it essentially becomes an access fee which is what net neutrality has worked hard to prevent. The goal of proponents of net neutrality is that every provider offers the same levels of service to every potential customer, without added fees or barriers to access certain content at a higher rate or better reliability.

In theory, an ISP could even block access to content providers not willing to pay their “toll” to reach consumers.   This is a fundamental change to the way the Internet has operated and allowed the innovation of services to occur freely.

One common point of misunderstanding is belief by some users that they already have to choose their levels of service from an ISP. That is true, to an extent, but what you are selecting is the speed in which all content is capable of reaching you, not allowing the ISP to decide what content is important to you and adjust your access accordingly.

So how do these changes affect higher education? If implemented, ISP’s could approach institutions that they know are dependent on their students being able reliably reach their learning content platforms.  Even though the institution may not even be a customer of the ISP, their students are, and they would be put in a decision making position of paying an access fee to allow its students the access it needs. Refusal to pay such a fee could place the institution at a competitive disadvantage with other similar institutions and cause reliability issues that affect learning effectiveness as well.

These changes will be released via the FCC website for public comment on May 15, 2014. Using the feedback methods they establish, it is the time for all users, not just tech savvy ones, to look at both sides of the issue and determine what is best for you as a user. If you feel that the Internet is a free market and providers have the right to set access fees on their services, then you would want these access charging changes to be implemented as needed. If you believe that Internet access has become a must-have utility, then you would say that it needs to be treated like a common carrier and not a commercial product, and access should be provided equally to all content vendors.

For more information on the proposed changes:

About David

David is an Educational Technologist with Purdue University - Teaching and Learning Initiatives.
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