What a net neutrality repeal would mean for American internet users

DETROIT – The FCC is preparing to vote on a repeal of net neutrality.

While net neutrality is complicated, it can be broken down into simpler explanations.

Understanding net neutrality

Think of the internet as a congested highway. Big trucks like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix are taking up the fast lanes. Net neutrality keeps these trucks, or websites, from paying to dominate the fast lanes.

With net neutrality, everyone from students to mom-and-pop business to big companies are guaranteed equal access to the fastest service. 

Net neutrality also prohibits service providers from slowing down internet traffic or blocking access to competitors. 

Arguments for, against repeal

Arguments to remove net neutrality center around speed. 

Internet service providers argue that the ability to charge services that take up more bandwidth, such as Netflix, would increase users' average internet speed.

Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, was appointed to the position of FCC chair by President Donald Trump in January. Pai argues that net neutrality is a form of big government, and he considers it regulatory overreach.

He has also said that net neutrality is not what people want and its days are numbered.

Technology experts have noted that internet prices could go up if net neutrality is repealed. Another argument against the removal is the elimination of fair competition.

"The big entertainment companies like Netflix could afford to pay the internet service providers to get premier special access. The problem is for the little guys and the startups," City University of New York professor Jeff Jarvis said. "If they can't afford to pay for special premier access or the user doesn't find it or finds that their content is very slow, then they're not going to succeed."

Essentially, bigger companies may get priority and dominate what users see online, while smaller sites fall behind.

Past issues

Deregulating the internet has caused problems before. In 2013, performance examinations of Google Wallet on internet service providers found that it was suffering significantly on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. At the same time, the three providers were developing their own mobile pay app.

Once a report detailing this came out and criticism hit the three service providers, Google Wallet's performance was restored to normal levels.

False survey responses? 

The FCC, which is made up of non-elected officials, reached out to the public to get opinions on net neutrality. The FCC said the responses indicated support of removing the regulation, but experts argue that the survey responses may not be accurate.

Experts say that nearly 1.3 million survey responses in favor of the removal were made by robots, not people. There have also been claims that negative poll responses were missing.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said an investigation has been launched.

FCC chairperson addressed the issue in an editorial in the LA Times. 

In the piece "I'm on the FCC, please stop us from killing net neutrality," she wrote, "There are credible allegations that many of the comments were submitted by bots and others using the names of deceased people. What's more, some 50,000 recent consumer complaints appear to have gone missing."

She said she believes the FCC should not vote until the issue is settled and another public survey is conducted because the FCC should serve the public interest.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on a repeal of net neutrality on Dec. 14.