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The battle over net neutrality continues, Obama voices support

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Net Neutrality
Photo by Kevin Huang, Fight for the Future

President Barack Obama made a brief speech last month announcing his support of net neutrality by asking the Federal Communications Commission to enact strict rules in favor of it. What followed was public debate and discussion, warranting a brief clarification over what net neutrality is.

Johnson Koshy, a University of Houston computer science student who dedicated research into the subject this year, provided a brief explanation.

“There are primarily two sides,” Koshy said. “One side wants internet service providers (ISPs) to not be able to discriminate based on content, and the other wants ISPs to manage internet as they deem appropriate.”

Koshy said that without laws in place to prevent it, ISPs would put a stranglehold on their customers in the name of profit.

In a Petition to Deny document filed to the FCC in August, Netflix made an effort to block the merging of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, accusing Comcast of greatly reducing internet speeds for the popular video streaming service earlier this year.

Although an agreement was previously reached in February that allowed for more direct connection between Comcast and Netflix, the video streaming service expressed concern that the merging of the two companies would harm other internet companies seen as competitors. Giving Comcast and Time Warner Cable control of a dominant share of the nation’s residential high-speed broadband customers.

Obama’s suggestion to the FCC is to reclassify the internet as a telecommunications service, which would make ISPs subject to certain regulations that currently don’t apply to them. The regulations would include: no blocking, no throttling, increased transparency, and no paid prioritization.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson said they’ve been organizing since last spring to protect net neutrality by submitting formal comments, meeting with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and participating in the FCC roundtables.

“I’m thrilled to see President Obama stand with Etsy and our sellers,” Dickerson said.

Opponents argue that ISPs have no interest in abusing control over bandwidth for profit, and that being unable to prioritize internet usage harms the ISPs themselves. They also argue that they will be less likely to improve their own networks, resulting in a loss in processing speeds for the customers.

Cisco Systems CEO and Chairman John Chambers spoke in October about how pro-neutrality legislation caused several major service providers to cut back on expansion.

“We started seeing service provider spending slow a lot last quarter among the big three guys that might be the most affected,” Chambers told PC World. “If they can’t make money on the broadband build-out, they’re not going to build out.”

Other concerns by those against net neutrality include worry that a governmental organization in control over ISPs would only harm the internet. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted his disapproval of the president’s announcement, calling net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet”.

Websites in favor of net neutrality engaged in an online protest called “Battle For The Net”. Sites like Netflix, Vimeo, and Urban Dictionary showed small popups with a loading wheel. The purpose was to demonstrate what a theoretical internet without net neutrality would be like, with the protesting site in the metaphorical slow lane.

“As a consumer and a strong believer in an ‘open internet’, I believe we must preserve the internet as we have it for advancements toward the future,” Koshy said. “Anything else is a step backwards.”

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