Southeast takes note of Net Neutrality
Over the past couple of weeks, media has been abuzz with the news the Federal Communications Commission will be voting to rescind the Net Neutrality rules instated during the Obama Administration.
Southeast Computer science professor Xuesong Zhang provided an explanation on what has become a contentious issue. The term “Net Neutrality” was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003 and applies to the idea of internet service providers not discriminating when it comes to content and connection speeds.
Zhang said he believed Net Neutrality to be a good policy, and it was a method of protection for consumers against big internet service providers and their corporate interests. Zhang compared bandwidth to a waterline, noting only so much can be delivered and those limitations make internet service providers want to slow some customer’s connections so they can grow their number of subscribers with the saved data.
“By limiting the usage, they can get more customers,” Zhang said.
What data the companies save can then be sold to other customers. There is usually an allowance of high-speed data for most internet providers followed by slowed service once users have exceeded the amount.
Some internet service providers allow customers to sign up for a specific data plan, giving the user a certain amount of bandwidth. After the bandwidth is used, the speeds may slow down.
Net Neutrality prevents internet speeds in general from being slowed without warning. Internet speeds slowing down for no apparent reason had been an issue, he said, and had led to confusion among customers.
Similarly, Zhang said the repeal of Net Neutrality could affect the experience for college students and how they access the online portions of their classes according to whether or not companies would slow speeds or content with the newfound freedoms Net Neutrality’s repeal would allow.
“The freedom [of the internet] is a tool of the general public, and not the tool of the big companies… that’s the central idea,” Zhang said.
It is not easy to predict, Zhang said, what the future of the internet is without Net Neutrality because of the advancements in technology meant to satisfy the customers. With things like cloud computing or artificial intelligence, providers would need to update their equipment to meet the growing demands and supply the bandwidth.
For that reason, he said a cost increase for customers may be inevitable because of the companies’ equipment investment. Zhang said inventors had been working toward the idea of local television stations broadcasting internet service in some cities. Similar innovative ideas on technology could be made to improve the nature of internet service to help customers use internet that works better for them when it comes to access and speeds, he said.
According to Zhang, there is a code of computer ethics, and following this ethic determines a company’s reputation. Zhang said among the current issues in internet companies is the “red tape” of technical support and how a customer dealing with support staff may have difficulty finding a staff member able to help them.
By shipping their jobs overseas and reducing the number of service staff, companies create issues helping customers with online concerns, especially in the case of slower internet speeds. Customers have better access to these services through online technical support, Zhang said.
How the repeal of Net Neutrality could affect the University specifically, he said, is a “subtle issue.” According to Zhang, the outcome would be based upon how Southeast’s internet provider and Southeast’s technical department negotiate terms.
People need to be educated on the meaning of Net Neutrality, Zhang said, because of the lack of understanding. He believes people are simply not familiar with the true meaning of the term, and if the policy is to survive, it will need advocates.
Junior cybersecurity major Grant Woodfin said he thought Net Neutrality was a good policy because without it customers may be paying more for internet. However, consumers who did not need as much bandwidth could possibly purchase cheaper, slower internet.
Woodfin also said he thought a post-Net Neutrality internet may hurt startup companies because of higher prices.
Computer Science Club vice president Faizel Khan said the repeal of Net Neutrality could “create an unfair marketplace for content providers,” and the effect on the university may vary.
“If [internet providers] get to choose to place a university website on the lower bandwidth plans because a university cannot afford to pay all the [internet providers] to stay on higher ones, students are going to experience [a] hard time accessing their university website,” he said.
The Federal Communications Commission will be making their vote to repeal Net Neutrality policies on Dec. 14, at which point the outcome of the controversy will be known.