The Federal Communications Commission on Nov. 21 released a proposal to repeal net neutrality regulations, a major reversal of the rules established under the administration of former President Barack Obama in 2015. Since then, members of the Yale community have taken a strong stand against the FCC plan.
The plan comes as part of an ongoing debate about whether internet service providers should be allowed to prioritize certain types of online content over others. Currently, net neutrality prohibits providers from discriminating against specific websites, giving content providers free and open access to the internet. But the recent plan, pushed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai, would eliminate that restriction on providers. Among those who have voiced concerns about the proposal is Ido Kilovaty, a research scholar at the Yale Law School and resident fellow at the Law School’s Information Society Project.
“The most concerning part is that repealing net neutrality is dangerous for freedom of expression and thought,” he said. “What will happen is that the stronger actors in the internet world will have more resources to have a priority, whereas smaller entities and newer organizations will be much more limited.”
Kilovaty added that the repeal would stifle innovation because startups with smaller web platforms would be at a disadvantage relative to well-established internet companies. Even the results of a simple Google search would be less objective, he explained, since internet service providers could give higher priority to websites with viewpoints they support.
He also said that the possible effects of repealing net neutrality are not “hypotheticals,” as proponents of the FCC plan believe. Rather, there are indications that providers were already blocking certain content at their own discretion before net neutrality regulations came into effect three years ago, he said.
Thomas Kadri LAW ’20, a PhD candidate at the Yale Law School and resident fellow at the Information Society Project, also said that providers should not be allowed to interfere with the specific content that internet users view on a daily basis.
“If there are too many cooks in the kitchen all trying to change what we see and what we can do online, then that causes a lot of problems,” he said. “The internet service providers shouldn’t be dictating what should survive or thrive on the internet.”
Yale undergraduates also expressed concern about the FCC proposal. David Jiang ’19, a global affairs major, said that one concerning aspect of the FCC plan is that repealing net neutrality would take away the necessary right for consumers to have free and open access to the internet.
“It’s these everyday 99 cent things that we rely on, that we take for granted, that are so important,” he said. “Once that falls apart, that destroys American society. And I would argue that the ability to consume information, as per the consumer’s choosing, is one of these everyday things.”
Another point of concern, he added, is that online content would have “an additional layer of filtering.” He pointed out that it would become more difficult to sift through information and find the truth with all the filtering, which is dangerous for consumers who are trying to stay informed.
Still, Alexis Saiontz ’18, a computer science major, said she thinks Yale students are not concerned enough about the issue.
“I think it’s really important for the internet to be free and open because that’s how almost all information is spread,” she said. “I don’t exactly know what the effects will be, but I am concerned about what they could be.”
The FCC will vote on Pai’s proposal on Dec. 14.
Amber Hu | firstname.lastname@example.org