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September 22, 2014

Consumers speak up on net neutrality


Over three million people have commented online to the Federal Communications Commission on the net neutrality debate, the results of which could have drastic effects on how we use the Internet.

Since the creation of the Internet, service providers such as Comcast and Verizon have operated under the principle of net neutrality, in which they transmit all online traffic equally. But a proposed change would allow them to charge websites to reach an audience faster, with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Internet service providers say that getting rid of net neutrality would bring them additional funding to improve their technology. But the change could bring new charges to Internet consumers who could be forced to pay more for their favorite sites such as Netflix or Facebook.

It would also be a difficult change for small Internet-based businesses, which would need more funding to get off the ground, according to David Pogue, founder of Yahoo Tech.

“The little interesting Internet startup companies will need more money to get into those fast lanes,” Pogue said.

Critics of the plan also say that net neutrality is essential to preserving free speech on the Internet. For activist and minority groups who lack the funding for fast Internet service, net neutrality is an essential staple of their online work. The American Civil Liberties Union called the current debate over net neutrality “one of the most foremost free speech issues of our time.”

The ACLU assert that dissolving net neutrality would endanger First Amendment rights such as: freedom of speech, association and assembly; freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

The end of net neutrality could also mean that Internet providers would favor some websites and services over others. For example, since Comcast owns NBC, it could provide preferential fast service to NBC’s sites to drive more of an online audience to them, Pogue said.

The FCC will most likely make a decision on net neutrality by the end of the year.

Warm up questions
  1. What do you use the Internet for most? How many minutes or hour do you spend on the Internet each day?
  2. What do you think the general population uses the internet for? Explain your guess.
  3. Imagine that you work as an Internet analyst and your boss has put you in charge of finding out how much data is being used on each website on the entire Internet. How would you measure it? Where would you start?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why do you think that so many people sent in comments to the FCC about net neutrality?
  2. Do you think it is important to maintain net neutrality on the Internet or do you think the FCC should change the policy so that businesses could pay to have faster service? Explain your answer. Now imagine that you are the president of Netflix. Would your answer change? What if you were the owner of a new startup company? Use evidence from the video and text to support your reasoning as well as your imagination to devise answers from these different groups.
  3. The president of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, used to work as a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. How might this affect the FCC’s decision?
  4. The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for several missions including:
    • Promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities
    • Supporting the nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution
    • Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally
    • Revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism
    • Providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation’s communications infrastructure

    Taking these principles into consideration, what do you think the FCC will decide to do about net neutrality?

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