Bethel faculty, staff and students comment on upcoming net neutrality vote

 - Wesley Lantz, Joshua Goodwin, Emily SeCheverell, Clayton Sidenbender and Philip Arndt -  21


On November 21, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC will be taking a vote on December 14 on whether or not to repeal the Obama-era rules regarding what’s known as “net neutrality.”

Net neutrality refers to a set of government regulations that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from regulating traffic to and from particular websites. Net neutrality also prevents ISPs from providing faster or slower service, or barring service at all, from certain websites.

This isn’t the first time the FCC has voted on these restrictions; the first vote was announced back in April and didn’t pass the board.  Now, the second vote date is fast approaching, and many people are worried it might make it through the FCC this time around. “It’s frustrating to me the idea that something that is so integral in our society is at risk from being taken away from us by officials that don’t necessarily speak for us,” said junior sociology major Heather Kennedy. “We didn’t vote them in for office, they’re not like congress (members) that have to answer to us necessarily, and I don’t think that the idea that they can make such an important decision that will affect the economy is right. I don’t think it’s an interest of the people, the American people. I personally find it very frustrating that this is even in question.” “The danger of net neutrality being revoked, which is what Trump wants to do, (is that) there's a very high potential that a state-sponsored government media outlet (could) take control of the entire media,” said Ethan Hunt, junior sports management major. Hunt expressed concerns that companies like Comcast, who has a partnership with NBC, could limit traffic to competitors, thus limiting the free flow of information. Adjunct faculty member James Bennett also expressed some concerns about the upcoming vote. “I'm a little leery,” he said. “I think you hear some of the people who are for it saying that it will be fine, people can pay for what they're using, they can pay for what they want, that type of thing. But it is a little concerning to see what might happen having less regulation to protect the consumer, so a little leery there, but I'm also not one who's real big on a lot of regulation.” “I’m going to say there are advantages and disadvantages,” said Robert Daniels, associate professor of sociology. “Apparently, [one] of the advantages is that it’s going to drive prices down for some people who don’t use the Internet as much versus people who use it a lot are going to pay for that added bandwidth. There’s a question that sometimes crops up in discussions such as this, and it’s one that has a direct bearing on the issue of net neutrality: is the Internet a luxury, or a necessity, such as water and gas? “That's really complicated,” said assistant professor of education Bryan Waltz. “It does not fall on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so that would make it, I suppose, technically a luxury. The work that we do in academia could be done without the Internet, it was long before the Internet ever occurred...it's a nice thing to have, it makes life easier, but it's a luxury.” Citing that his students’ work submissions are primarily Internet-based, Bennett said, “Well, I think years ago, you may have been able to say it's a luxury, but now, so much of what we do depends on the Internet, and access that it is becoming, if it is not already, a necessity.” Kennedy said, “I think, 15 years ago, I probably would have said it was definitely a luxury, but I think at this point because of the way it has become so to integrate into society, it is definitely a necessity at this point." How could life change if net neutrality were repealed, either from a student’s perspective or from an overall economic perspective? “The natural forces of the market will drive decision-making,” said Waltz. “It's all about making money, right? So, the natural consequences of company A and company B's choices will determine who is going to shop where.” Patti Fisher, senior director of information technology at Bethel, said, “I think the shift will be behind the scenes. Of course, it always affects the student, because as the college’s costs go up, tuition has to go up," she said, adding, "So, there’s not going to be an immediate halt on data travelling…I think it’s all going to be negotiated in how we pay for our service providers.” Hunt asserted that it could hurt publication education significantly. "Public education, obviously, depends a lot on the government and government funding, if the government starts to decide, 'okay, companies can buy out other media outlets and this and that,' I just think it could lead to a very dangerous slope of the government then beginning a serious mandate over what information is shared and what information isn’t shared.” When asked about how a net neutrality repeal would affect day-to-day education activities, Fisher said, “Yes, I do think it’s going to affect those things, (but) I’m not even sure that it’s going to affect them in a negative way, because technology is such a fluid thing," she said, adding, "that when it’s squeezed, people often innovate and they figure out ways to push more bandwidth faster and quicker and (with) less space. So, the technology may rise to the occasion and provide solutions on its own.” Rebecca Miller, student body president, said, “It reminds me in high school where we learned monopolies and just how detrimental they are to competition, and I think that’s the kind of trend we will see, especially in students’ lives, or just in our lives in general, that eventually people will have enough monopolies they will be able to control what we can and cannot see.” Waltz said that he feels a repeal will not affect the academic lives of students all that much. “…Most of what we ask you to do is searching for information, or using online services like Google Docs and things like that, or Office365, where those are going to be low-bandwidth aids,” he said. “Your lives as (far as) streaming video games and streaming videos will probably be impacted.” Miller had one final thought on how the repeal may affect information. “I think, especially for people growing up, if they grow up without what we have had with net neutrality, I think they won’t have as full of a view of what the world could actually look like, of different opinions, of different things,” said Miller. “In my opinion, I think it’s a matter of controlling what people can or cannot see. I don’t think it’s correct.”

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