The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal that would change net neutrality rules has triggered worry from many people, including Chattanooga citizens.
"This most recent proposal is not only harmful to smaller nonprofit organizations and small businesses ... but it is also harmful to Internet users everywhere," David White, CEO and founder of information technology consulting firm for nonprofits Develop CENTs, said in a prepared statement.
What is net neutrality?
In its purest form, net neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally—that users shouldn’t have to pay more to access certain content and that companies shouldn’t pay to have their content prioritized.
According to the FCC, the proposal would ensure:
—"Transparency: that all Internet service providers must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network."
—"No blocking: that no legal content may be blocked."
—"No unreasonable discrimination: that Internet service providers may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity."
But the new proposed FCC rules could allow content providers to pay for prioritization—essentially what is being called a "fast lane."
Companies could pay more to make sure their content is quickly, more easily accessible.
White said small businesses or nonprofits that can't afford to pay for the fast lane would suffer.
The proposed rules don’t allow for content to be knowingly slowed, but some argue that, during periods of high Internet use, content that isn’t prioritized would be slowed down as a side effect of the fast lane.
"The FCC chairman said under current law he can prevent companies from slowing down other sites, but it’s not clear that he has the legal authority to do that," Chris Mitchell, director of the community broadband initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said.
Mitchell has visited Chattanooga twice and wrote a large case study on how EPB built its network, he said.
Several Chattanoogans have already taken the opportunity to tell the FCC their thoughts on the issue.
Leaders with EPB, which brought fiber optic infrastructure to the city, said all content should be treated equally.
"We don’t discriminate," EPB spokesman John Pless said, adding that it’s not in the plans to ever start prioritizing content. "We believe the Internet should remain equally open to all users."
Chattanooga’s fiber optics
The fact that Chattanooga has a fiber optics system puts the city in a unique situation.
Fiber optics systems transmit data through fiber cables made of strands of glass or plastic as opposed to copper cables, which have more limited capacity for fast transmission and are used by companies like Comcast.
"Because we are an all-fiber network, we have the ability to essentially deliver almost unlimited bandwidth," Pless said. "We built a network that is very robust."
Anyone using EPB’s fiber optics Internet will likely be impacted less by the FCC’s upcoming decision, Mitchell said.
But, if net neutrality is lost, it could make the Internet less valuable overall, he also said.
"Chattanooga is less impacted but still has a stake in the outcome [of the FCC decision]," he said.
One of the FCC commissioners said that members of Congress should decide this issue, according to The New York Times.
Mitchell said that's "absurd" and that making tough, technical decisions is the FCC's job.
Sen. Bob Corker said Congress should have a say.
"I consider ensuring the excellence of, and access to, American broadband and wireless services to be worthy goals. However, the repeated failure of the FCC to regulate the Internet within the bounds of existing law only reinforces my view that this complex issue, which will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the Internet, deserves the full consideration of Congress," Corker said in a prepared statement.
What are others saying?
Mitchell predicted that there would be a lot of feedback to the FCC on the issue.
Thousands of people nationwide have provided comments. Click here for the comments page.
"All commenters will support net neutrality with the exception of the carriers and ideological groups that believe the government shouldn’t do anything," Mitchell said.
Nearly every comment on the issue from Chattanooga residents was in favor of net neutrality and preventing fast lanes.
Pless said EPB officials haven't decided if they would participate in the comment period.
Another part of this debate involves the FCC creating rules that will be upheld in court, according to CNET’s Marguerite Reardon, who wrote a question-and-answer series on the issue.
"The FCC's authority in implementing net neutrality protections has been questioned twice before in court. Both times, the rules were thrown out," she wrote.
Net neutrality advocates say that the FCC can’t defend net neutrality in court because "broadband is not classified appropriately, which inherently restricts the FCC's authority to enforce regulation," she also wrote.
Currently, broadband is regulated as an "information service," not a utility or "common carrier." Click here for more in-depth information about what that means.
Both companies provided statements to Nooga.com on the issue.
AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi wrote that the company "is committed to an open Internet."
According to the FCC, open Internet principles and net neutrality are the same thing.
"This debate has been falsely labeled as a debate over fast lanes and slow lanes," Cicconi wrote. "It is not about that at all. This debate is over whether we will continue to foster an investment environment that has allowed U.S. companies to build the world’s best networks so that all consumers can have the fastest Internet lanes in the world."
He goes on to say that it would be a mistake to regulate the Internet as a utility and would be a "tragic step in the wrong direction" because it would "put the government in control of the Internet at the expense of private companies, investors, entrepreneurs and ... the American people."
Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen had a similar sentiment.
He said in this statement that his company is "committed to a free and open Internet."
Reclassifying it would "spark massive instability, create investor and marketplace uncertainty, derail planned investments, slow broadband adoption and kill jobs in America."