What's Next For Net Neutrality
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One topic of conversation that maybe didn't make it to your Thanksgiving table is net neutrality. It's an issue that affects us all. Current regulations on Internet service providers bar them from deciding how you access the Web. That means they can't block your access to certain websites or make you pay fees or slow your ability to reach certain content online. The FCC is expected to remove those regulations next month. Now, we should note that NPR's legal counsel has filed comments with the FCC against deregulation.
We're joined now by Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent at Axios - joins us from San Francisco. Thanks so much for being with us.
INA FRIED: Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: I think a lot of people haven't understood until recently that we have a neutral net.
FRIED: Yeah. This is something that came about during the Obama administration. I think if you polled people at the time, many people would have thought we already had it. We actually didn't have those rules. But they put in place these rules that were designed to prevent those sorts of slowing down or prioritizing from ever happening.
SIMON: What will that landscape look like if the regulations are removed?
FRIED: Well, we really don't know. I mean, that is the $64,000 - or, actually, in the billions of dollars - question. Is the current marketplace strong enough that we don't need these rules, or will we see some of the things that happen in other countries, where if you want unlimited Netflix, you not only have to pay Netflix, but you have to pay more to your Internet service provider or where they can speed up their traffic? So if you're AT&T, and you own DirecTV, they can speed the DirecTV content but slow rival video content. And that's a prospect that has a lot of people worried.
SIMON: The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, was on Morning Edition this week. And he argument (ph) that the free market approach to the Internet in the 1990s made sense.
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AJIT PAI: We saw $1.5 trillion of investment in networks. We saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that applied to this Internet.
SIMON: And what do you think of that argument now?
FRIED: Well, I think, in retrospect, we can say yes, it worked out pretty well. I think the question is, would it still work out well in the future? And it might well. I think the concern is that it might not. Why are we taking away rules that protect the internet on the hope that things will continue to work out?
SIMON: There are lots of people who are concerned that there'll be what amounts to second- and third-class citizenship on the net.
FRIED: Again, I think that might be a little less likely. It is one of the fears - is that some of the big internet content providers can pay for the best access. And if you are a small news provider, if you're a small music service, if you are a small social network - that you won't be able to pay to have the best service, and it will make it harder to compete. I think the chairman is right that, you know, in the past, the Internet did not suffer before these rules. I think it's tough to make the case that before net neutrality rules were put in place - that the Internet suffered. Obviously, it flourished. I think the question is, when you have it in the control of a few carriers, will things continue to be good just because? And I think that's a really tough question to answer. So I think a lot of people are like, let's not take away these rules.
SIMON: Can Congress do something?
FRIED: They can. And, in fact, a lot of people on both sides would like to see Congress do it, precisely so we don't have what we've had in the last couple years. Obama is president. There's net neutrality rules. Trump comes in. Those rules get repealed. There may be pressure on both sides to say, look, let's not revisit this every presidential administration. Let's have a set of rules that we all can live with that are consistent and permanent. And I think that might be a good outcome for everyone.
SIMON: Ina Fried, chief technology correspondent with Axios, who joined us by Skype, thanks so much for being with us.
FRIED: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.