The Federal Communications Commission has released its plan to repeal Obama administration net neutrality rules. Net neutrality guarantees a free and open internet that treats all content equally. Repeal of the rules would give internet service providers more control over what websites their customers have access to, and how much that access costs. The FCC will vote on the plan on December 14.
University of Michigan experts are available to discuss:
Harsha Madhyastha, associate professor of computer science and engineering, studies distributed systems, networking, and security and privacy.
"The network neutrality debate is not as straightforward as it is made out to be in the media," he said.
In a piece in The Conversation, "Thorny technical questions remain for net neutrality," Madhyastha outlined when net neutrality may not be ideal.
"In fact, there are several scenarios in which I'd argue ISPs really should be able to treat different types of traffic unequally, speeding some along while slowing others down," he wrote. "Now consider two users whose internet traffic goes through a congested link. If one user is streaming video and another is backing up data to the cloud, should both of them have their data slowed down? Or would users' collective experience be best if those watching videos were given priority? That would mean slightly slowing down the data backup, freeing up bandwidth to minimize video delays and keep the picture quality high."
Florian Schaub, assistant professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science, privacy, human-computer interaction, mobile and ubiquitous computing, and the Internet of Things.
"FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that removing the net neutrality rules will enable innovation. He has it backwards," he said. "A free internet ensures innovation by creating a level playing field for all companies regardless of their size. The proposed rule change only benefits ISPs who then can charge twice for the same service: their subscribers for internet access and content providers for making sure that their data actually reaches the ISP's subscribers. Consumers, on the other hand, will either see a decline in available services or an increase in costs and content providers and online services will have to enter into expensive agreements with ISPs.
"The notion that competition between ISPs will ensure open and cheap access to the internet is just wishful thinking on part of the FCC given that in most parts of the United States people have no choice from which ISP they get their internet connection.
"The FCC's plans to repeal the FCC's net neutrality rules will result in substantial disadvantages for consumers both in terms of access to online content and financially.
The repeal would likely create higher costs for consumers—if Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and other companies have to pay ISPs to ensure that their data reliably reaches their customers, those customers will eventually end up paying more for their Netflix subscription.
"Even worse, while large companies may be able to pay such costs and make deals with ISPs, smaller companies and startups are suddenly faced with high initial costs to ensure that their services make it to consumers."
Amanda Lotz, professor of communication studies, is an expert on net neutrality, media industries, the future of television, the business of media, and digital distribution. Her most recent book, "Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television," explores the connections between internet-distributed services such as Netflix and the legacy television industry, as well as the business strategies and revenue models that differ.
"The rules were created out of concern internet service providers would reserve high-speed internet lanes for content providers who could pay for it, while relegating to slower speeds those that didn't—or couldn't, such as libraries, local governments and universities," she wrote in a 2016 article in The Conversation. "Net neutrality is also important for innovation, because it protects small and startup companies' access to the massive online marketplace of internet users."
Read her full Conversation article, "Appeals court upholds net neutrality rules – why you should care," published in June 2016.
Libby Hemphill, associate professor of information and research associate professor at the Institute for Social Research, has studied net policy protests and movements (SOPA/PIPA, EFF messaging). She studies social media, civic engagement, automated moderation techniques, fan studies, political communication, digital curation and data stewardship.
"Think about how frustrating cable TV bundles are—you often can't get the channels you want without paying for the most expensive bundle," she said. "Repealing net neutrality makes it possible for ISPs to do a very similar thing with your internet access, potentially putting sites you don't use (or don't want to use) in the fast lane or budget package and sites you do want in the slow lane or premium package. Maybe they let you stream Fox News in the budget package but streaming MSNBC is only available in premium.
"The FCC chairman's comment about requiring transparency from ISPs is like saying, 'We're going to let them decide what you can and can't see, but at least we're making them tell you about it.' There isn't much competition for high speed internet service, so it's not like consumers really can switch to a different provider if they're unhappy with the choices their ISPs make about how to prioritize and price access."
Doug Van Houweling, professor of information, researches the development and future of the internet, sensor networks and information technology management. He was a 2014 inductee into the Internet Hall of Fame, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to the internet.
"The internet has been an incredible engine for innovation because it has welcomed new applications and services," he said. "The fact that a new idea is immediately available worldwide through the internet has provided an enormous incentive. Net neutrality has anchored this entrepreneurial expansion, and the United States has been the primary beneficiary. Allowing established large companies to favor their services over others and resist innovation will not only harm the internet and deprive its users, but it will also handicap U.S. leadership in internet innovation."
Chuck Severance, clinical associate professor of information, works on developing standards for teaching and learning technology. He teaches a number of very popular massive-open-online courses. He has co-hosted several television shows about the internet and appeared for more than 10 years as an expert on internet and technology as a co-host of a live call-in radio program on local public radio.
Kentaro Toyama, associate professor of information, conducts interdisciplinary research to understand how the world's poorer communities interact with electronic technology and to invent new ways for technology to support their socioeconomic development.