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Should the Government Regulate the Internet?

Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers (ISP’s) ought to treat all internet traffic equally and not intercede between users and their internet destinations.  Net neutrality policies were officially implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015.  Through this, the FCC classified the internet as a regulated utility under the 1934 Telecommunications Act. Advocates of net neutrality argued that ISP’s would throttle (diminish) the speed at which users could access certain websites, unless net neutrality was implemented.  Usually, these websites consume a large amount of bandwidth.  Advocates also claimed that ISP’s would eventually charge fees to websites in return for unencumbered user access to those sites. Skeptics of net neutrality argue that the government is poorly suited to regulate such a vast and changing communications tool.  Further, providing internet access is a costly business for ISP’s, and businesses who provide and innovate valuable services should be reworded for their work.  Net neutrality, in their view, harms economic prosperity and the free flow of information.

Resources

Activity

  1. As homework the night before, have students read the article “Pros and Cons: Net Neutrality and the Internet as a Utility.”
    1. As part of their homework, they should compose a short summary, in their own words, of the main points of the pro and con perspectives included in the article. Their summaries may address the following contentions, but may not be limited to them.
    2. In the pro-net neutrality piece, the author argues that ISP’s may begin to funnel internet users into fast and slow-speed lanes, depending on how they use the internet and which websites they access. This would degrade the quality of the internet user’s experience.  Furthermore, there is a fear that ISP’s will charge websites for regular-speed user access.  This is a problem because very few websites would be able to pay such fees, giving advantages to a few wealthy companies, while harming many others.  Next, the pro-neutrality author writes that net neutrality has been the de facto management policy of ISP’s since the beginning.  The implementation of the principles of net neutrality have led to vast innovation and growth.  The FCC is merely codifying these positive principles and enhancing the integrity of the economy.
    3. The anti-net neutrality author argues that the government should not become internet traffic cops, picking and choosing how ISP’s run their businesses. They argue that ISP’s will lose financial incentives and have no reason to expand coverage to underserved areas.  If ISP’s cannot afford to innovate, then many people will be out of jobs.  High bandwidth websites (such as Netflix) are costly burdens for ISP’s, and they must find ways to make up for those shortfalls.  Moreover, regulating the internet under the 1934 Telecommunications Act, a law conceived about sixty years before the internet was widely available, is a foolish idea that burdens modern technology with antiquated law.
    4. After their summaries, students should record which side of the debate they favor, and why.
  2. In class, show the two short video clips “Internet Citizens: Defend Net Neutrality,” and “Net Neutrality: How the FCC Could Kill Call of Duty.” Lead a class discussion, followed by a reflection.  Potential discussion questions include the following:
    1. From whence does the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) derive its authority to regulate communications companies?
      1. Answer: It was created by Congress through the Communications Act of 1934 and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. Oversight is performed by the Congress.  The President appoints its five commissioners.
    2. When it was created, what was the mission of the FCC?
      1. Answer: It was created to regulate telephone and radio communications. As new methods of communication were pioneered by entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers, the FCC expanded its regulatory responsibilities to include television, cable, and satellite communications.  Originally, its main mission was to provide equal and affordable access for all people to communications services, and ensure the viability of the nation’s communications networks.
    3. Ask students for their viewpoints.
      1. Do they believe the FCC performs an important regulatory function, or should Congress consider alternative methods for overseeing communications? Should any part of the government oversee communications at all?
      2. Should the internet be regulated in any capacity? If so, why?  If not, why not?
      3. Where do they stand on net neutrality? Ask them to consult the viewpoint they recorded in their homework the evening before.  Now that they have shared a discussion about net neutrality and heard more viewpoints, have their own viewpoints changed?  If so, why?  If their stance remains the same, what are the compelling arguments that brought them to their stance?