FCC repeals net neutrality: Engineering experts offer comments

A long-standing tenet of the internet was overturned today.

In a move that gives internet service providers more control over what websites their customers have access to, and how much that access costs, the Federal Communications Commission voted today to repeal net neutrality rules.

Put in place by the Obama administration, net neutrality rules aimed to guarantee a free and open internet that treats all content equally.

“I don’t think this new order will be the last word on this issue,” said Harsha Madhyastha, an associate professor of computer science and engineering who recently wrote, A case against net neutrality in IEEE Spectrum. “The open question is how to draw a clear boundary, in legal terms, between what forms of differentiation should be allowed and what should not be allowed. Even from a technical standpoint, it’s pretty hard.

“Today’s ruling is troubling to some extent because if you allow ISPs to create fast lanes and allow paid prioritization of certain kinds of traffic, you wonder if only the big players like Google, Facebook, and Netflix will be able to deliver good performance to users, and a mom-and-pop startup from someone’s garage in the Silicon Valley be unable to compete with these big players. But, on the flip side, it’s in fact desirable that ISPs should not have to be completely neutral at all times, for example when they have to cope with congestion within their networks.”

As a result of today’s vote, Florian Schaub, assistant professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science, expects consumers to either see a decline in their services or an increase in costs as content providers and online services enter into expensive deals with ISPs.

“Consumers should watch how their ISP responds to this over the next months and years. They should watch for changes in terms of service, privacy policy etc., and file a complaint with the FTC when they consider the behavior either deceptive or unfair,” Schaub said. “Beyond that, consumers who disagree with the ruling can call their representatives in Congress and appeal them to reinstate net neutrality.”

The spirit of net neutrality has central to the internet since its birth, says Doug Van Houweling, a professor of information, in the Michigan Engineer article How the Net was Won. He expects today’s vote to slow the pace of innovation.

“The fact that a new idea is immediately available worldwide through the internet has provided an enormous incentive. Net neutrality has anchored this entrepreneurial expansion, and the United States has been the primary beneficiary,” said Doug Van Houweling, professor of information at U-M, who played a major role in establishing the modern internet. ” Allowing established large companies to favor their services over others and resist innovation will not only harm the internet and deprive its users, but it will also handicap U.S. leadership in internet innovation.”