From online courses to Sakai—This is how a lack of net neutrality could affect Rutgers


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With net neutrality on the chopping block, the future of online courses, internet databases and course registration at Rutgers may be up in the air.


An impending move by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to end net neutrality could have a drastic effect on Rutgers University and its students.

Net neutrality is defined as "the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites that individuals want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked," according to Save the Internet.

As PBS reported, net neutrality is currently in jeopardy — Ajit Pai, the chairman for the FCC, is trying to end net neutrality. Pai's reasoning is that the rules are burdensome and stifle innovation and competition. 

In May, the FCC moved Pai's initiative forward, prompting backlash in the form of more than 20 million online comments.

Steven Miller, a professor in the Department of Journalism & Media Studies and coordinate of undergraduate studies for the department, said net neutrality is the practice of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Optimum, Verizon and Comcast being regulated as utilities, such as water or electricity. 

Miller said this means ISPs must provide the same level of access to all users regardless of how much they pay. If net neutrality is ended, ISPs will be able to charge higher rates based on speed, and pick and choose what content their users are able to see based on how much they are paying.

“Net neutrality levels the playing field,” Miller said. “What ISPs want to do is have a two-tiered system where if people want higher speeds, they have to pay more money for it.” 

Miller said the repeal could also have serious consequences for Rutgers students. He highlighted an example of lower-income commuter students being unable to access the Sakai or online courses from home due to being unable to afford faster speeds. 

“What this does is create a knowledge economy, in which the rich can get smarter, and those who can’t afford it fall behind,” Miller said.

In regard to access for residential students, Ana Verma, associate director of the Office of Information Technology, said Rutgers relies on several outside providers for its internet connectivity. Rutgers students should not see changes in their on-campus internet access. 

“The results of the FCC’s proposed deregulation are unclear. At this point, we are not anticipating any immediate changes to our internet connectivity.  We will continue to monitor the situation as it progresses,” Verma said.

The outcry in support of net neutrality has been loud and clear across the internet, with several petitions being circulated on change.org and whitehouse.gov. Companies such as Twitter, Airbnb and Pinterest have released public statements demanding a “free and equal Internet.”

Internet service provider Comcast, on its website, claims it will not block or throttle user access. But reports from DigitalTrends and CNET highlight how Comcast and fellow ISP Verizon have previously throttled services such as Netflix and YouTube until their parent corporations paid extra fees.

Miller said the repeal of net neutrality is not likely to be stopped, as Republicans, who generally support repealing net neutrality, control Congress and the White House.

“This is a classic case of the 1 percent, telecom CEOs, making themselves richer at the expense of the 99 percent,” Miller said.


Sam Leibowitz-Lord

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