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Net neutrality repeal not a big factor locally, so far


A recent topic in the national news has been the repeal of “net neutrality” rules which restrained internet service providers (ISPs) from charging consumers more for access to certain websites, and from charging websites more for faster download speeds for their sites.

The repeal has people nationwide worried that their internet bill could go up and be comparable to satellite and cable television services which bundle their channels and charge more money for access to certain channels.

Micah Seekins, operations manager at Coulee Internet Services, says that consumers shouldn’t worry, feeling confident that consumers would simply leave their ISP if their service suffered, or if charged extra fees, and would find an ISP that doesn’t add extra charges. Seekins says that this will prevent ISPs from making these changes for fear they would lose their customers.

“This is something the market will regulate, and has regulated,” Seekins said. “There’s only so far you can push your customers or they’ll start changing their plans. That’s the beauty of the American system. The more competition you have, the more the customers win. And that’s how it should be. There should be a plethora of companies and a plethora of customers because then the market will fight and you will get more innovation.”

The fiber-optic “backbone of the system” in this area is provided by the Grant County PUD’s network, noted spokesman Ryan Holterhoff, but retail charges are really up to the ISPs to whom it sells.

Other ISPs that service the local area didn’t return calls for comment.

Companies didn’t have these extra charges in place before the latest set of rules enforcing net neutrality were passed in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission. So, supporters of the change say, new charges won’t be put in place now just because those rules have been removed.

Still, without regulations, ISPs now have the right to charge customers more for access to different websites, or charge websites more to use the “fast lane” to have their site load more quickly for internet users.

If an ISP wanted to charge websites more to be in the “fast lane,” one ramification might be that smaller websites unable to afford that tear of service would appear be slower to appear in your browser. They wouldn’t get the chance to take off as a business, making the internet less of the digital land of opportunity that it has been up until now.

ISPs may now favor websites or services that they have financial interest in, and make things slow for competitors’ content. For example, AT&T is trying to acquire Time Warner, and thus may want to give streaming priority to their asset, HBO GO, over other streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.

Critics of the recent change worry that could lead to bundling of services similar to the model followed by cable TV companies, changing the open nature of the internet.

Other major corporations also have financial incentive to favor some content over others. Verizon purchased AOL in 2015 and Yahoo in 2017. It owns the HuffPost, Yahoo News, TechCrunch, Engadget, Yahoo Sports and Tumblr. Similarly, Comcast purchased NBCUniversal in 2011.

The FCC now argues that the internet is not a utility and therefore is not subject to FCC regulation, but is rather in the hands of the Federal Trade Commission.

The FCC repealed its regulations despite widespread bipartisan disapproval from the people. The Washington Post recently reported that “a recent survey by the University of Maryland shows 83 percent of Americans — including 75 percent of Republicans — support keeping [net neutrality] after being presented detailed arguments on both sides.”

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee says he will play the states’ rights card and keep net neutrality for Washington’s citizens, despite the FCC ruling.

“Washington state will act under our own authority and under our own laws and under our own jurisdiction to protect the very important measure of net neutrality for all Washington citizens,” he said. “We are not powerless.”

The real impact of the repeal of net neutrality will take time to play out, but in the meantime no one has reported their bills going up.

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