Open internet at risk for consumers, internet services

Net neutrality debate

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - It's called Net Neutrality. Which in layman's terms means "open internet" or "equal internet."  Whether you're using Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, you're accessing it the same way, at the same speed -- equally.

If the FCC decides to relax it's rules with broadband companies, those companies can decide which to let load quickly, like say your their own streaming sites, or which traffic to slow down.

In 2015, the FCC put your internet providers under what's called the Title II Communications Act -- which allows all content on the internet to be treated equally, also called net neutrality.

"That says that internet providers are treated the same as utilities, such as electricity, gas, water and therefore treating all clients and customers equally," Grand Valley State University Director of the School of Computing and Information Systems Dr. Paul Leidig said.

You're paying for how much data you're using, but not the kind of data.

"Net neutrality says that internet providers cannot treat different content and different sources differently," Dr. Leidig said.

But now, the FCC has announced they're considering less enforcement of Title II, which could give the big, powerful internet companies more power.

"By doing so, they will substantially limit not only the choice that consumers have in what content and what services they can get but also what they pay and what the quality of that service is," Dr. Leidig said.

But some of the companies you use to get the internet - are saying they "need" to charge more for these streaming sites for instance, to maintain a competitive free market system.

"The argument of the internet providers is in order to be competitive in order to increase and grow the internet," Dr. Leidig said.

So if you've been on Reddit today, you've probably seen a message alerting you to the net neutrality debate.

"The websites that are taking part in this day of action are trying to get the message across to consumers that if they don't speak up, the fear of what might happen the broadband providers like Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon will have the power and control to limit what choices you have," Dr. Leidig said.

It's a two sided coin, but it pays to be educated.

"We need to be aware that if the broadband providers are going to be given a monopoly, that they have to at least not charge differently and not throttle back the speed of competing products," Dr. Leidig said.

It's a fight over equality that has a direct impact on what you see, how you see it and how much you pay.

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