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The what-ifs of net neutrality

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 3, 2015
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The what-ifs of net neutrality

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 3, 2015
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This week, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to propose reclassifying how Internet service providers are regulated, treating them treated like utilities. The idea is to foster net neutrality, so all data flowing across the Internet is treated equally.

What would the new regulation mean for consumers?  

Internet service providers don’t like the idea of being regulated like a phone company. They say that would pave the way for more taxes on consumers, like those that appear on phone bills. But Congress has prohibited state and local governments from collecting new Internet taxes. So what about federal taxes?

“We don’t know which way the FCC is going to go on any particular provision,” says Jodie Griffin, a senior staff attorney for the consumer group Public Knowledge. The FCC could add a universal service fee to your Internet bill, she says. The fee already appears on phone bills and is used in part to extend phone service to high-cost areas at reasonable rates. But Griffin says the total amount collected might not change. 

“So there will be some people who are not paying now who would be paying something, and there will be other people who are paying now who will be paying less,” she says. 

Other consumer advocates say the FCC could delve into the issue of Internet privacy.

“We’ll have a lot more privacy tomorrow than we do today,” says Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.  The FCC could use its new authority to prevent tracking on the Internet, he says, but the key word is “could.”

Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, says: “Everybody can keep powder dry.  I don’t think there are any immediate changes.”

FCC officials seem to be just focusing on net neutrality, Zittrain says. “These are not wild-eyed radicals somehow wanting to blow up the system,” he says.

Zittrain says these are all things the FCC could do, if it wanted to – and that’s a big if.

Curious about what net neutrality means?


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