Daniel Pollock and Nyadeng Mal, Editor-in-Chief and Reporter
The internet was frenzied. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai became a voodoo doll for concerned social media users. He popped up in social media feeds, dressed like Santa Claus and described as Hitler or eating popcorn with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Celebrities urged their fans to contact state officials and Twitter users bid farewell to followers. The internet was dying—or so some thought.
Pai released his plan to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations in late November and birthed a seeming internet revolution.
The FCC voted 3-2 Dec. 14 to dismantle the rules regulating online content.
Youtuber PewDiePie released a video about the repeal, describing Pai as “the most hated man on the internet.” Tweets poured forth—Pai responded to some in a “mean tweets” sketch from the Independent Journal Review—and citizens volunteered for service in the “battle for the net.”
But much of the protest has stemmed from misconceptions, according to the FCC.
For many, net neutrality is a complex topic to understand. Pierce College Chief Information Officer Mike Stocke jokingly said the depth of the topic “made his head hurt.” The FCC released a fact vs. myth sheet, hoping to calm fears.
A common phrase seen around the internet in the days following the vote said the rollbacks would cause “the end of the internet as we know it.” In reality, the repeal is returning internet regulations to those put in place during the Clinton administration.
Net neutrality was first enacted under the Obama administration in 2015. A 313-page document listing the rules was publicly released two weeks after the FCC had passed it into law. Pai released his proposal three weeks before the Dec. 14 vote, calling out the past FCC for a lack of transparency.
“The prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the internet,” Pai said in a statement announcing his plan to restore internet freedom. “(net neutrality) was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.”
Despite these statements, Pai didn’t have a distinct response when democratic Sen. Ed Markey asked what the repeal would fix.
“Obama-era regulations might be dampening infrastructure investments,” Pai said.
Markey didn’t seem convinced, saying “might be” wasn’t enough evidence.
Many Americans feel the same. According to a survey by the University of Maryland, 83 percent of Americans don’t want to repeal the Obama-era regulations, four out of five Republicans agree.
But the FCC later criticized this data.
“This is a biased survey that, among other things, makes no mention of the role that the Federal Trade Commission will play in policing anti-competitive or unfair conduct by internet service providers,” the FCC said in a public statement.
ISPs will not be left to do as they please. The Federal Trade Commission will police ISP actions, as they did prior to 2015.
“The Federal Trade Commission has broad authority to police unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices online and has brought more than 500 enforcement actions to protect consumers online,” the FCC stated.
Pierce’s Stocke doesn’t sound worried when he talks about how the repeal will impact the college.
“In 2015 and prior I didn’t see anything that hindered (Pierce) in any way, shape or form,” Stocke said. “With Net Neutrality or without Net Neutrality, I don’t see it affecting the way we do business at the college.”
Stocke added he hasn’t heard concerns from any other local colleges.
Not all schools feel the same, though. Educators rely heavily on free content and a wide range of resources to teach. In an NPR news article, teachers were asked how they feel the repeal will affect them as educators, and many felt it would hinder the creativity of their students and be harmful to schools in low income communities.
But Pai says the rollback will eventually help consumers because broadband providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, could offer a wider variety of service options. Pai also argues that the repeal would open up more room for competition and would help small businesses thrive.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the repeal, disagrees and says the repeal will do more harm than good.
Rosenworcel says repealing net neutrality could give broadband providers the ability to slow down or speed up internet content, stating there is evidence that net neutrality has prevented broadband providers from blocking and slowing websites on a larger scale.
“We have not had widespread blocking and throttling online because we’ve had net neutrality protections in place,” Rosenworcel said.
UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan agrees with Commissioner Rosenworcel and says that “the repeal of net neutrality will actually harm small businesses who’ve moved onto online retail and e-commerce.”
PewDiePie had to edit his video after publishing. He initially claimed Pai’s rollbacks would give the government more opportunities to interfere with the internet, but the repeal takes control away from the government.
The internet will be more of a ‘free market’ without net neutrality, which Pai believes will encourage the birth of more Internet Service Providers, creating more competition between ISPs and, in turn, lower prices.
Some have expressed concern that the repeal will bring higher internet costs.
Sharon Huitsing, a computer information systems assistant professor at Pierce College Puyallup, likes the possibility of more competition between ISPs, but hopes internet prices won’t rise.
“I think of the internet as a utility, you need it to live—like water,” Huitsing said, calling for the end of the internet divide.
One-quarter of Americans don’t have broadband, according to Time Magazine. The Restoring Internet Freedom fact sheet states the repeal will promote broadband to expand in rural America, closing the digital divide.
Pai has called net neutrality “misguided,” and “legally flawed.” He isn’t alone. There was an ongoing first amendment-centered debate when the FCC released Net Neutrality in 2015. The rules implemented during the Obama-era stated that ISPs cannot block websites or impose limits on users.
Some believed these government regulations controlled the free speech of the private corporations, but some said the ISPs would control the free speech of internet users if they censored content.
Perhaps the most common argument against the repeal is the ‘fast lane/slow lane’ premise. Some believe ISPs will charge based on internet speed, faster service will cost more. But the FCC has a clear response to this:
“This didn’t happen before the Obama Administration’s 2015 heavy-handed Internet regulations,” the fact sheet read. “And it won’t happen after they are repealed.”
Some states, including Washington, have expressed concern about the repeal and drafted plans to separate themselves from the ruling after it passed. Some politicians share the concern.
As of Jan. 18, Senate Democrats are one vote away from undoing Pai’s work and overruling the FCC, but the bill will most likely not pass in the house.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost
Pollock is a Running Start student in his second year at Pierce, pursuing an AA degree. After Pierce, he plans to transfer to a 4-year university.
Beyond journalism, Pollock also writes short stories, personal essays and screenplays. He is found cooking and eating food, writing, making movies and playing piano as often as his schedule allows. He also is a latte advocate and self-proclaimed film anthropologist.
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