Innovation expert: Repealing net neutrality is a threat to democracy

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The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, a regulation that requires internet service providers to carry all online traffic at the same speed.

Supporters of the regulation believe its repeal will allow service providers to charge more for certain content, while critics say removing the regulation will allow the internet to thrive in the free market.

Heather Ross, an assistant professor for Arizona State University, says in areas where there is little competition between service providers, these providers will have little incentive to innovate or offer competitive pricing. There are currently 129 million Americans that only have access to one internet service provider.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, the Government ends net neutrality. What does it mean for all who use the internet. New video of police and protestors at last summer's Trump rally raises questions about how both sides reacted. And some good news for 3-Arizona school districts regarding a national study on student success. Those stories coming up on Arizona Horizon.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Senator John Mccain remains at the Walter Reed Medical Center where he was admitted earlier this week to deal with what Mccain's office describes as normal side effects of the treatment for brain cancer. Senate sources are telling CNN that Mccain had appeared increasingly frail of late and had shown a noted lack of energy and participation in recent GOP meetings. It's not known how long Mccain will "remain" hospitalized. Senator Lindsay Graham is Mccain's closest friend on Capitol Hill and says that she's optimistic Mccain will be back soon. She advised Mccain that it's, quote, "ok to take a day or two off.”

Ted Simons: The Federal Communications commission today voted to end net neutrality. It's a decision that could significantly impact everyone who uses the internet. Here now to explain is Heather Ross, assistant professor at ASU's school for the Future of Innovation in Society. Welcome to Arizona "Horizon." Good to have you. What is net neutrality?

Heather Ross: It was the rule that said all traffic on the internet had to be carried at the same speed.

Ted Simons: and that is basically it? The internet provider couldn't block or slow content. Everyone goes at the same speed. All systems go. What changes?

Heather Ross: When we don't have net neutrality, internet service providers, the large telecommunication corporations can set-up fast lanes and slow lanes on if we want to think of the information super highway; right? They can also decide which web sites get carried in the slow or fast lane.

Ted Simons: And they can charge different rates for the slow and fast lanes?

Heather Ross: They can and they can charge what websites they carry and which ones they block.

Ted Simons: it sounds like the FCC is no longer regulating the service providers like they were utilities. It is back to the old days.

Heather Ross: That is right. Prior to 2015, we didn't have net neutrality. These rules came into effect in 2015 and the FCC is effectively walking us back to pre-2015.

Ted Simons: and the idea again is that it is okay to block, it is okay to charge and do all these things but you have to disclose first?

Heather Ross: That is one of the things they talked about and the chair of the FCC said the key to this is there is transparency now required by their internet service providers or ISPs that they can do the fast and slow lanes and select who goes in them and who they block but they have to be transparent.

Ted Simons: FCC says the hold rules ever heavy-handed micromanagement and the new rules are better for consumers and business. You agree with that?

Heather Ross: I don't. One of the things in the statement was prior to 2015 there was no problems. In 2012 in fact we saw that one internet service provider chose to limit customer's access to a video chat software using cellular data unless they purchased a more expensive data plan.

Ted Simons: That ended in 2015. It can start again now as long as the service provider lets everyone know what they are doing. Critics are saying this will lead to higher prices on the internet. Do they have a point?

Heather Ross: They do. Internet service providers can make decisions to prefer streaming services that might in the mega merger era be affiliated.

Ted Simons: FCC said this could help serve these underserved areas. Is that true? There are areas here in Arizona where you don't get the internet access like you should. Will this help?

Heather Ross: Sure. The FCC basically says this is bringing back to a free market where it has been heavily regulated and the notion of a free market breeds competition which is ultimately good for consumers. That right now, with an era of regulations, internet service providers are not heavily incentivized.

Ted Simons: How does getting rid of net neutrality change your options?

Heather Ross: Average consumers might see their streaming video slow down on certain web sites. Or could see their prices go up if they want to access certain web sites at certain seeds; at higher speeds.

Ted Simons: If they see those web sites slow down they can do what? Go find another service provider?

Heather Ross: Today there is only four major internet service providers in the country. We are talking about four large telecommunication services and most consumers don't have a choice who services their home.

Ted Simons: the ISPs say this is a good thing. Are they over selling this?

Heather Ross: I think they are. I talk to entrepreneurs who rely on free and open access to the internet in order to start company and do their business and view net neutrality as an essential part of being able to innovate.

Ted Simons: Small businesses could be hit and small ISPs I imagine could get hit.

Heather Ross: Sure. There was a comment that municipalities could create broadband spectrum and that is a huge investment and we know most municipalities have limited resources.

Ted Simons: Do we know when the new standard takes effect?

Heather Ross: I believe it is as of today but I should say don't quote me on that.

Ted Simons: if not, we will figure that out. I think the chairman --

Heather Ross: You can google it today.

Ted Simons: the chairman did say your internet will not change this afternoon.

Heather Ross: That is one of the things he said, yes.

Ted Simons: last question before you go. How big a deal is this?

Heather Ross: I think this is a huge deal and here is why. I believe that our democracy relies on our ability to freely exchange information. This decision today gives corporations the ability to regulate how we access our information. As soon as we have done that, I think it is a threat to our democracy.

Heather Ross: Assistant Professor, Arizona State University

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