Net neutrality: what it is, why it matters

President Donald Trump has indicated support for repealing FCC net neutrality regulations. BYU communications professor Ed Carter said net neutrality protects the free flow of information. (Sam Bigelow)

A repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality legislation, tentatively scheduled for 2018, could lead to internet providers restricting their customers’ internet usage and data speeds.

Net neutrality, a phrase coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, is the concept that access to web communication and content should be free and unlimited.

Net neutrality was guaranteed to United States residents in 2015 when the FCC applied Title II legislation and Open Internet Order to internet service providers, which prevents companies from blocking and slowing competitors’ websites.

While the FCC currently maintains net neutrality in the United States, many telecommunications companies like Comcast and AT&T have previously attempted to limit subscriber internet speeds.

“Net neutrality is an important protection for free flow of information,” said BYU communications professor Ed Carter. “Corporations should not be allowed to engage in content-based choices regarding information flow.”

President Donald Trump and his administration have indicated support for rolling back FCC regulations that help maintain net neutrality.

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders during a July 18 press conference.

Over 200 organizations and companies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Patreon and Netflix, protested the FCC on July 12 following the FCC’s vote to begin repealing net neutrality.

By preserving net neutrality, companies focused on curating and creating creative content can continue to operate as usual and compete in an open market without gatekeepers or limitations, said BYU Law alumna Emma Cano.

BYU currently offers high-speed internet up to 1 gigabit per second and works with multiple internet service providers to provide internet on campus. BYU hasn’t taken an official stance on net neutrality and will “carefully look at the potential impact of any regulatory changes,” said Joe Hadfield, the BYU director of online communications.

Cano said the current rhetoric from the White House is opposite of that expressed by President Barack Obama’s administration. This change in stance could lead to the repeal of net neutrality, giving internet providers an opportunity to change the internet as users know it.

BYU Law alumna Emma Cano wrote a legal review regarding net neutrality in 2016 and said she has since seen the rhetoric regarding the legislation change drastically. (Emma Cano)

“The broadband providers’ plan would affect competition, innovation and economic growth by restricting the availability and speed of information and services available on the internet,” Cano said.

Cano said Title II would be difficult to repeal entirely because of its age and complexity, but the Open Internet Order could be rolled back, reversing restrictions that prevent broadband providers from limiting the internet. This reversal would affect internet usage and competition across the board for everyone, including BYU students.

“I think that sort of corruption is detrimental to all of us, no matter what stage in life we are at,” Cano said. “It makes information harder to obtain, it prevents innovation on a number of levels (from end users to content providers) and it prevents economic growth.”

Carter said the FCC’s best approach to net neutrality should be to “do no harm,” and just leave it in place.

“Society generally suffers from information content bottlenecks, especially in a deregulated environment where corporations seek their own interests and not the public interest,” Carter said.