FCC to vote on proposed 'net neutrality' change Thursday

December 13, 2017 08:07 PM

We all take it for granted - unrestricted access to most content on the internet. We have unrestricted access because of a concept known as net neutrality, and it's currently the law.  But there could be major changes after the FCC votes on Thursday.

Laura Vitale hosts a popular cooking show on YouTube with nearly three million subscribers.  But these days, she and her husband Joe see a looming threat.

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"I've literally lost sleep over the possibility of net neutrality being taken away," said Joe.

"I'd be really at a risk of going out of business," said Laura.

To understand net neutrality, a gas station provides the perfect analogy. Right now, your internet service provider has to remain neutral. That means it can't speed up or slow down your data flow based on the website you visit. But imagine the owner of the gas pump is like your internet service provider. Right now it's neutral. Regular unleaded gas, plus, and premium all flow at the same rate.

But what if your internet service provider – i.e. the owner of this gas pump - wanted you to choose premium, so he slowed the flow of regular to a trickle.  And at that rate it takes you twenty minutes in a frigid Rochester winter to fill your tank.  The next time you fill up, you're more likely to choose premium because it flows faster.  That's what the supporters of net neutrality are afraid of – that without net neutrality regulation your internet service provider will be able to control the flow, thereby controlling where you shop, watch videos and browse.

That terrifies Laura and other internet-based small business owners like her.

"This would really affect mom and pop shops where they can't afford to pay big money for their website to load faster or be the top result," said Chris Fabrizio, net neutrality supporter based in Rochester, NY.

If net neutrality is voted down, internet providers like Spectrum, AT&T, Cox and Comcast would have the ability to build fast lanes and slow lanes on the internet. The five FCC commissioners are expected to vote 3-to-2 along party lines in favor of the proposal put forth by President Trump's FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. Pai wants to roll back Obama-era regulations - saying the federal government should "stop micromanaging the internet."

Consumer advocates fear that gives the big telecom companies the power to charge you more. "People that consume media online on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, those sites may be barred or charged an extra fee,” argued Fabrizio.

Consumer advocates fear internet service providers will be able to bill you more for access to certain services.  For example, they could charge a fee for a social media package or a fee for a live streaming video package.

But those who oppose net neutrality, including industry lobbying group U.S Telecom, say consumer fears are unfounded.

"Consumers care that their content isn't blocked, their content isn't throttled.  Those principles existed before the current rules and they're going to exist after,” said Jonathan Spalter of U.S. Telecom.

The FCC took public comments on net neutrality this summer.  But critics, including New York's Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman argue the process was corrupt. Schneiderman released a statement Wednesday arguing two million fake comments were submitted using the identities of real people.  He encouraged New Yorkers to check to see if your identity was used to submit a fake comment in favor of abandoning net neutrality regulations.


Deanna Dewberry

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