Broadcast Staffer Lily Bruce-Ritchie interviewed Clarke Central High School students and local experts about net neutrality and how it’s absence would impact the use of the internet.
The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality rules on Dec. 14 which could affect students and residents of the Clarke County School District.
On Dec. 14 the Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, voted 3-2 to repeal Obama-era regulations, known as net neutrality, which prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking websites and charging fees for high-speed internet access.
“We are helping consumers and promoting competition,” Pai said before the FCC’s vote. “Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
Now that the net neutrality rules have been repealed, ISPs can charge content providers, like Amazon and Netflix, extra in order for their content to load for customers. For example, Verizon could charge Netflix a certain amount of money for Netflix to load quickly for Verizon customers. In turn, Netflix would likely have to charge their subscribers extra to match the price they are having to pay to ISPs like Verizon.
While Pai believes the repeal will help stimulate a private market, Tim Denson, candidate for Athens-Clarke County Commission in District Five, believes Athens may be negatively affected by the lack of regulation.
“I think (the repeal of net neutrality) is very dangerous and moving us in the wrong direction. We need to have equal access to not only the ability to get on the internet but also the content that’s already there,” Denson said.
According to Clarke Central High School senior Hallai Ferrer, some students are worried about the potential effects of the repeal.
“(The internet) is a basic thing that we’ve had that a lot of people use as a part of their everyday life. For that to be taken away from them it’s a big deal,” Ferrer said. “But a lot of people were worrying about us having to pay for certain social media platforms, but since it’s been repealed nothing has happened yet.”
However, professor of telecommunications at the University of Georgia Dr. William Lee believes net neutrality should never have been instituted, and that the repeal will not have any effects.
“The arguments (for net neutrality) are not based in reality. They’re all based on apprehension and fear of bad things that might happen as opposed to a record of identifiable harms that have actually occurred,” Lee said. “It is reflective of an attitude towards regulation rather than a solution to real problems.”
Ideally, net neutrality levels the playing field for startups and small businesses to gain traction on the internet
by ensuring the same speeds for all websites. Some worry that, without net neutrality, new businesses and platforms won’t be able to pay the high price required by ISPs and therefore won’t receive preferential speeds, hindering their chance of success.
“Athens is a college town, it’s an innovative town. A lot of great musicians have come from Athens,” professor of law at the University of Georgia Joe Miller said. “A lot of innovative people in Athens, as with everywhere else, are worse off without net neutrality.”
Timeline by Ana Aldridge.
Since the 2014-15 school year, the Clarke County School District has had personal computers for each student.
“We’re pretty reliant on technology. A lot of our class work is usually online,” Ferrer said. “I was sick for three days and I was able to go onto Google Classroom and complete all of my work there.”
According to CCSD instructional technology specialist Dana Siegmund, the repeal of net neutrality could have lasting effects on the use of technology in the CCSD.
“If a lot of the materials we’re using for free become things that need to be paid for, that could change things substantially,” Siegmund said. “It could potentially price public school students everywhere out of materials that they’re accustomed to using.”
The repeal will likely hit low-income Americans hardest, and Athens-Clarke County, with a 35 percent poverty rate, could potentially face great damage.
“It will hurt people with less money more than people with more money. As is true of so many things. If ISPs decide that what they should do is charge as much as possible to as many as possible, that will of course leave people who have less means to pay out of the picture,” Miller said.
One option for Athens is to create a local, public ISP that still has net neutrality regulations. Denson has been a proponent of this option for Athens.
“(A local ISP is) something a lot of areas are looking into now,” Denson said. “This gives another way for people in our community to connect to the internet and know that it’s not going to be filtered through some payed tier system that the repeal of net neutrality made available.”
But even if Athens moves forward with this option, Denson believes it could take several years to be put in place. In the meantime, some worry about the effects on Athenians.
The repeal could hurt students of the CCSD in particular, due to the CCSD’s reliance on technology and high poverty rate — 74 percent of CCSD students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch according to ProPublica.
“If we don’t create something like a local ISP or find another way to put net neutrality back in place, it’s
definitely going to hurt students. Especially the ones who are low-wealth students,” Denson said. “I think that’s a great reason for the CCSD maybe being a partner as we look into creating our own local ISP because there would be great benefits for our local school systems.”