The debate over a proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation known as “net neutrality” is reaching a head, as calls to delay a commission vote in Washington, D.C. were rejected on Dec. 5. The FCC plan, which deals with competition among Internet service providers (ISP), non-discriminatory network traffic management, user fees and overall business models, might have an effect locally, according to several local media representatives who spoke to The Times-Independent and shared their perspectives on what this vote could mean.
“As a journalist, net neutrality was the best thing that ever happened to research,” said KZMU station manager Marty Durlin.
When net neutrality regulations were passed in 2015, under the direction of the Obama administration, the Internet was reclassified as a Title II telecommunications service, and rules were created under the principle that individuals should have the ability to access web content without the interference of their ISPs. This means that ISPs cannot control the content access or streaming speeds of their customers. If net neutrality regulations are repealed, ISPs will gain the ability to throttle the Internet access of their customers and charge additional fees for better access.
In an interview with Emery Telcom CEO and General Manager Brock Johansen, he explained why ISPs such as Emery might want to do this.
“Should a service provider be able to limit a heavy user? Should you have the right to throttle someone else down so they don’t hurt your other customers?” asked Johansen. “We’re throttling so everybody has a good experience. It’s the service provider trying to protect the rights of their other users.”
Johansen also explained that providing speedy Internet to Moab often entails buying circuits all across the country, a cost that falls on the ISPs.
“We don’t want to control what you’re viewing, that’s not the debate here. It’s who’s paying for it,” he said.
Johansen said he advocates for a compromise in which the FCC’s Universal Service Fund eases the burden on ISPs. The fund, which is established by law under the Communications Act of 1934, provides financial assistance to telephone companies and ISPs and enables access to communications in rural areas.
Royce Henningson of River Canyon Wireless also sees the need for compromise, saying, “There were parts of that law that were good and parts that were horrible. If you were trying to start a business that was in competition with one of the big carriers, you could be slowed down, but I’d sure like to see some of the rules go away, there’s too much paperwork.”
The FCC vote will be an all-or-nothing decision, however, and according to Durlin, the concept of free and open Internet is worth any cost.
“The whole division of people around whether you can afford to pay more for a premium service to get the information that you want is just so counter to a free and open society,” Durlin said. “When you make a divide that you could get all that if you had enough money for it, it exacerbates this wealth inequality that is coming to the floor.”
If ISPs gain the right to manipulate streaming speeds, larger sites like Facebook or Google could pay to make the speed of access to their sites a priority, Durlin added. “Smaller websites, or ones generating less revenue, would struggle to compete,” Durlin said.
“It absolutely proves to be a threat to rural opportunity … it further marginalizes and disenfranchises geographic groups and cultural groups,” said KZMU development director Christy Williams-Dunton. “By monetizing it in the way that recent legislation is proposing, they’re going in exactly the wrong direction to help people become resourceful in their own communities.”
Serah Mead of KZMU commented, “There’s so much communication that happens on the Internet, not even thinking about social media, and if that scope is funneled down into this little trickle of who can afford it and who is paying the most, it’s regressive.”
If net neutrality regulations are repealed, Durlin said individuals seeking free and open access to news and other current events may turn to radio broadcasting. Both KZMU and KCYN present daily news broadcasts to Moab. KCYN General Manager Jennifer Jones said she believes a repeal would wreck the web as we know it.
“On a local level it will destroy the Internet, and small business entrepreneurs will have a harder time getting their product and information out to the world,” Jones said. “I believe we need the freedom of the Internet to research, read and watch what we want.”
Williams-Dunton echoed this sentiment, saying, “Democracy absolutely depends on a well-informed republic.”
The FCC vote on net neutrality will take place Dec. 14 in Washington, D.C.