Sean Webber ‘17 – While most students were eating lunch and working on their Chromebooks during fourth hour yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was making an important decision aimed at ensuring internet service providers are playing fair. Commonly referred to as “net neutrality,” the Open Internet Order reclassifies all wired and wireless internet service providers in the United States as common carriers.
In the days of ole, the FCC created a bill called the Communications Act of 1934. It was designed to supervise the operations of AT&T (formerly Bell Systems), the only nationwide landline telephone provider at the time. Instead of AT&T operating as a completely private company, the act forced the company to cooperate with the FCC. Since the telephone had become such an important part of everyday life, the FCC concluded that it could not allow an entire nation’s communications to be at the mercy of one company, who had little obligation to make their services affordable nor free of corporate discrimination. By making AT&T a common carrier, it obligated the company to provide a service that could be afforded by nearly everyone, fair, and very dependable.
Eighty one years later, America faced a similar problem. While many consider landline telephones to be “old school,” most young people depend upon the internet for entertainment, communication, learning, socializing, and working. Until today, the FCC treated internet service as a product, not a public service. For internet users, that meant being at the complete mercy of internet service providers to provide fair service.
“We should have the power to watch anything we want,” Audri Basaj ‘17 said . “Having Comcast decide what loads fast and slow is extremely frustrating.”
Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon Wireless have been playing with the idea of internet “fast and slow lanes” for years. It allowed them to pick and choose what speeds certain websites would load over their services. In the past, Netflix loaded much slower than YouTube did for Comcast customers. Netflix gave in to Comcast’s demands within the past year, paying Comcast millions of dollars per year to make their movies load faster for their customers. Comcast’s On-Demand video service directly competes with Netflix, which could explain why Comcast would want to slow Netflix’s speeds down.
Those who are grandfathered into an unlimited data plan from Verizon Wireless, and use a lot of data, have probably noticed that their 4G is much slower in the early evening than it is during any other time of the day. The cause of this slow period is not solely due to internet rush hour—Verizon purposely slows down those users during those times for no particular reason, other than having unlimited data. These arbitrary limitations, fast and slow lanes, and throttling by internet providers is exactly what the Open Internet Order is designed to end.
According to LifeHacker, the decision also holds internet providers more accountable for how they advertise their services, the way they handle network expansions, and how they treat their customers. People from all over the country take to social media every day to vent their frustration caused by their cable company’s customer support department. In the past, there was not a lot an individual could do about their internet provider not providing the speeds they promised. Under the Open Internet Order, customers will be able to file complaints about their provider with the FCC, and expect action to be taken.
The Open Internet Order also aims to speed up the deployment of high-speed internet services into unserved areas. For Romeo students living in unserved areas around RHS, the day that they can use their Chromebooks from the comfort of their own homes cannot come soon enough.
“Cable is not available where I live, and my family cannot afford 3G or 4G, because it is so expensive,” Brittney Lawless ‘17 said. “Without internet access, my Chromebook is practically useless for my education outside of school. When the school moved everything online, people without fast internet access like me were left in the dust.”
The exact implications of internet service expansion are still in the works, and weren’t outlined completely in yesterday’s ruling. The FCC is expected to have more meetings in the future regarding how to give companies incentive for expanding into unserved areas that internet providers deem unprofitable. Overall, yesterday’s FCC ruling is great news for consumers, and guarantees un-throttled access to the internet for years to come.