Imagine you get to work on a regular morning, turn on your computer, and open your browser. Then, imagine that half of your bookmarked sites are inaccessible—unless you pay to unlock them. And what if you had to cough up even more money to search Google or scan headlines in the news? Sound crazy? Well, if rules around net neutrality change, this could become our reality—vastly impacting the way you work.
In May 2016, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai proposed a review of the existing rules around net neutrality that would essentially reverse the 2015 Open Internet Order. Right now, ISPs are classified as common carriers, so they can’t speed up or slow down certain content on their networks. More importantly, a business can’t pay to get its content delivered faster to users.
Not a simple change
Pai is trying to change that classification. This is a complex issue with arguments for and against the change. Pai isn’t against net neutrality per se. A report in MIT Technology Review points out that he and others don’t want the FCC to reclassify broadband, because it’ll have the authority to “impose strict, utility-style regulations on ISPs.”
This, they say, has an economic impact on the telecom industry—and beyond. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix support the open internet, while ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are against it.
What reclassification could mean to business
If the rules change, some experts say it could stifle innovation and competition—two core tenets of any successful technology business. Since every company is a technology company, curbing competition and innovation has potentially massive repercussions. In a paper titled, “Effects of Net Neutrality,” John Capobianco of Seton Hall University takes measure:
Between 1990 and 2010, the monthly global internet traffic has increased to become over 10 million times larger—from 1 terabyte per month to 10 exabytes per month. In essence, the internet has become one of the most innovative and expanding areas of the economy. Internet-based industries represents 4.1 percent, or $2.1 trillion, of the GDP of G-20 countries. If the entirety of the internet is taken into account, it would have an economy larger than that of Germany. As a result, maintaining high levels of innovation is necessary to be able to prosper and grow in such a rapidly changing environment.
In an interview with IEEE, Nicholas Economides, an economist at New York University, believes that preserving openness would promote innovation and economic development across most businesses. “The only businesses that benefit from violations of net neutrality are ISPs. If you think about it, 95 percent of businesses in the United States are not ISPs.”
How proposed changes will affect your work
Unless you work at an ISP, chances are you’re in that 95 percent—and changing rules will impact your day-to-day decision making. In a report in Wired, Chris Lewis, vice president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, observes that current FCC rules require ISPs to tell you how speedy their service is so you can determine whether or not you’re getting the most for your money. Imagine if you, as an IT decision-maker, didn’t have access to that information. How would you know if your contract with your ISP was worth what you paid?
Lewis notes that the current FCC regulations ensure that ISPs allow you to connect any device to your internet connection. You get to choose which type of hardware you use, including Wi-Fi routers, smart printers, or IoT gadgets. If that changes, ISPs could force the use of “approved” devices, which could drive up costs and provide poor delivery. Even worse, comparison shopping and learning about new technologies would be impossible if competing sites were blocked or slowed.
What you can do now
Until a final decision is reached, there are plenty of resources out there to learn more and weigh the arguments for and against. In addition to Capobianco’s paper, there’s another thorough examination of the issues in a paper titled “The Role of Innovation and Wealth in the Net Neutrality Debate: A Content Analysis of Human Values in Congressional and FCC Hearings.”
The official global Day of Action may have already passed on July 12, 2017, but there are still organizations to watch—like Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that deals with digital rights, which is still facilitating a dialogue with the FCC about the potential rollback of the regulations. Jump in, read along, and decide for yourself.