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May 16, 2014

New rules would OK Internet fast lanes, compromising “net neutrality”


The government recently took a big step toward changing the rules that govern how you access the Internet, challenging “net neutrality,” also known as the “Open Internet.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines net neutrality as, “a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use, and where consumers are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others.”

However, in a 3-2 decision, the FCC voted to allow Internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast to charge for faster access to certain sites. This could open the door for larger and wealthier companies to cut deals with service providers for faster service to their site and better quality content, while companies who don’t (or can’t) pay the fees fight traffic in the slow lanes.

“Consumers have taken for granted that any Internet content that they visit on the Web is delivered equally at the same speed, the speed that you pay your Internet service provider for,” Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post told the NewsHour. “What was approved today could change that structure, in that Internet service provides — that’s your telecom and cable company that provide the Internet into your home — can decide to charge Web sites for faster or premium delivery of content. And that means higher quality content.”

This means that consumers will get different access to different sites based on what deals tech companies can cut with internet service providers. But educators worry that schools and education sites, that may not be able to pay the new service charges, would end up in the slow lane.

The FCC claims that its move does not necessarily compromise net neutrality.

“There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. “The speed and quality of the connection the consumer purchases must be unaffected by what content he or she is using. The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable.”

There will be 60 days in which people can comment on the decision, and another 60 days of replies, which means the public still has an opportunity to change the outcome of this decision.

Warm up questions
  1. What are the top three reasons you use the Internet?
  2. How do you connect to the Internet?
  3. Are you ever frustrated by the speed of the Internet?
Discussion questions
  1. Is it fair for larger companies to be able to buy faster access to their websites? Why or why not?
  2. Do you agree or disagree with the FCC’s decision? Explain your answer.
Writing prompt

First, imagine that you are a giant company like Netflix. Write a convincing argument of why you think companies should be able to pay to give consumers a faster connection to their site. Second, imagine that you are a small start-up company. Create an argument that supports net neutrality and why it is important to you. Finally, as a consumer, which do you think is better for you? Make sure to defend your arguments with supporting details.

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