Changes to net neutrality concern many at MU

MU communications law professor Sandy Davidson: “A basic question is do you trust market forces more or government regulation more?”

An MU student using the internet. Maneater file photo

While MU students enjoyed their much-needed break from school, controversial changes were made to regulatory laws regarding the internet. On Dec. 14th, net neutrality, a regulatory status that guarantees equal access to all sites on the internet, was revoked by a vote from the FCC, led by chairman Ajit Pai.

Opponents fear this decision will allow internet providers to discriminate which websites consumers will get the best access to based on which websites pay more money, or based on what consumers themselves pay for.

The revocation left many around the country frustrated, including some MU students.

“I don’t necessarily trust that companies are going to put what their consumers want over their profit margins,” junior biology major Jacob Stockton said.

His concerns also extend to how this may affect him as a student.

“It may raise costs for the university to have access to materials, but then that could also raise costs for the student,” he continued. “Even subscription-based stuff like a lot of the Mastering software and Pearson and all that.”

Lauren Spear, a sophomore journalism major shared a similar sentiment.

“I think we should have a right to access and have net neutrality, especially for educational purposes,” she said.

Sandy Davidson, a communications law professor at the Missouri School of Journalism has spoken at length about this issue.

“A big question is this: Who do you trust more to do this expansion? The government with all of its regulations? Or businesses with their profit motives?” She wrote in a piece for The Columbia Missourian.

In her view, the debate lies between two opposing viewpoints. First, there are the supporters of removing neutrality who believe the market will ensure consumers get the best internet because it is in the company's best interest. On the other hand, proponents of net neutrality believe that because there still may be situations where what is best for the consumer isn’t always best for corporations, it is best for the government to regulate the internet.

“You have two conflicting views,” Davidson said. “If Ajit Pai is correct, unleashing market forces will lead to enhanced products and a better internet experience. If you take the opposite viewpoint and you’re really concerned about net neutrality, you might be concerned that some voices will be throttled or some might be blocked.”

As for which view Davidson takes herself, she believes it’s difficult to foresee which prediction will prevail.

“I’m mistrustful of business at times because I think if you unleash market influences sometimes what you’re talking about is basically trying to get advantages over your competitors and then things could go wrong, [but] to some people, the idea of big government worries them,” she said.

Although, Davidson has her own ideas about how the internet could be run.

“If I controlled the universe, I would like this country to consider broadband cable as just part of our basic infrastructure like highways, or like electricity,” Davidson said. “So if it’s not economically viable for a company to take broadband out to an area, perhaps that would be a place to have government help.”

However, Davidson doesn’t rule out the possibility that these regulatory changes won’t be reversed in the future.

“I want to be optimistic that if the vision of enhanced internet experiences proves wrong and we do get discrimination and blocking, then the FCC might rethink another vote...say no, we’re going back,” she said.

Edited by Skyler Rossi | srossi@themaneater.com

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