Repeal of net neutrality: U-M experts available

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The Federal Communications Commission voted today to repeal net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration. The move gives internet service providers more control over what websites their customers have access to, and how much that access costs.

These University of Michigan experts are available to discuss:

Harsha Madhyastha, associate professor of computer science and engineering, studies distributed systems, networking, and security and privacy.

"I don't think this new order will be the last word on this issue," he said. "The open question is how to draw a clear boundary, in legal terms, between what forms of differentiation should be allowed and what should not be allowed. Even from a technical standpoint, it's pretty hard.

"Today's ruling is troubling to some extent because if you allow ISPs to create fast lanes and allow paid prioritization of certain kinds of traffic, you wonder if only the big players like Google, Facebook and Netflix will be able to deliver good performance to users, and a mom-and-pop startup from someone's garage in the Silicon Valley be unable to compete with these big players. But, on the flip side, it's in fact desirable that ISPs should not have to be completely neutral at all times, for example when they have to cope with congestion within their networks."

See Madhyastha's comments before the vote in this expert video. He recently wrote A case against net neutrality in IEEE Spectrum. And in a piece in The Conversation in 2016, "Thorny technical questions remain for net neutrality," Madhyastha outlined when net neutrality may not be ideal.

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Florian Schaub, assistant professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science, studies privacy, human-computer interaction, mobile and ubiquitous computing, and the Internet of Things.

"Consumers should watch how their ISP responds to this over the next months and years. They should watch for changes in terms of service, privacy policy etc., and file a complaint with the FTC when they consider the behavior either deceptive or unfair," he said. "Beyond that, consumers who disagree with the ruling can call their representatives in Congress and appeal them to reinstate net neutrality.

"I expect that consumers will either see a decline in available services or an increase in costs, and content providers and online services will have to enter into expensive agreements with ISPs. The notion that competition between ISPs will ensure open and cheap access to the internet is just wishful thinking on part of the FCC given that in most parts of the United States people have no choice from which ISP they get their internet connection."

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Amanda Lotz, professor of communication studies, is an expert on net neutrality, media industries, the future of television, the business of media, and digital distribution.

"A lot of the innovation we've seen in the last two decades using the internet has been made possible by the fact that we have operated under net neutrality, and that the tiniest little startup can access the internet with the same speeds as some of the Goliath companies," she said. "And so I think the expectation is that this will create a barrier to entry to many industries as a result."

See Lotz' comments in this expert video. Read her Conversation article, "Appeals court upholds net neutrality rules – why you should care," published in June 2016.

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Kentaro Toyama, associate professor of information, conducts interdisciplinary research to understand how the world's poorer communities interact with electronic technology and to invent new ways for technology to support their socioeconomic development.

Before today's vote, Toyama suggested that true net neutrality was a bit of a myth:

"While I sympathise with the arguments for net neutrality, I don't actually believe that there's a real thing called net neutrality that isn't already being violated in many ways outside of the existing policy," he said. "There are perfectly legal ways for large companies to have an advantage online. Most of our online lives are controlled by literally a handful of large technology companies. In the early days of the internet we thought, 'Hey, this is this great, open, Wild West where anybody can do anything and be a publisher and so on and that's still true in theory. But the fact is, the Wild West eventually became governed.

(Even before today's ruling, we had become) governed, except that it's not a government of the people and of the consumers, but it's a government of a handful of tech companies who believe that increasing shareholder value is their primary prerogative. I think the real question is not net neutrality itself, but our willingness as a society and our interest as a society in much better and stronger regulation of the technology industry as a whole."

See Toyoma's comments in this expert video.

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Doug Van Houweling, professor of information, researches the development and future of the internet, sensor networks and information technology management. He was a 2014 inductee into the Internet Hall of Fame, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to the internet.

"The internet has been an incredible engine for innovation because it has welcomed new applications and services," he said. "The fact that a new idea is immediately available worldwide through the internet has provided an enormous incentive. Net neutrality has anchored this entrepreneurial expansion, and the United States has been the primary beneficiary. Allowing established large companies to favor their services over others and resist innovation will not only harm the internet and deprive its users, but it will also handicap U.S. leadership in internet innovation."

Contact: Nicole Casal Moore, 734-647-7087, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Libby Hemphill, associate professor of information and research associate professor at the Institute for Social Research, has studied net policy protests and movements (SOPA/PIPA, EFF messaging). She studies social media, civic engagement, automated moderation techniques, fan studies, political communication, digital curation and data stewardship.

"Think about how frustrating cable TV bundles are—you often can't get the channels you want without paying for the most expensive bundle," she said. "Repealing net neutrality makes it possible for ISPs to do a very similar thing with your internet access, potentially putting sites you don't use (or don't want to use) in the fast lane or budget package and sites you do want in the slow lane or premium package. Maybe they let you stream Fox News in the budget package but streaming MSNBC is only available in premium.

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