July 21, 2019 | 83° F

This is how net neutrality repeal will affect Rutgers students


The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to rollback net neutrality rules earlier today may limit internet access to off-campus students unable to pay additional fees for internet access. 

Earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality — a set of Obama-era rules that recognized the internet as a public utility.

Under net neutrality rules, internet service providers (ISPs) are prohibited from blocking websites or deliberately slowing down internet speeds. Net neutrality was implemented in 2015 under the Obama administration to better protect Americans who regularly communicate via the internet, according to The New York Times.

The vote was split 3-2 along party lines, effectively ending the once landmark regulations. As reported by the Times, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the repeal can help consumers because ISPs will be able to offer a greater variety of service options. Critics of the chairman’s decision have argued that the repeal will suppress what information specific groups of people will be able to access.

Steve Miller, director of Undergraduate Studies in Journalism and Media Studies, said that the changes will have an effect on Rutgers students too. He speculated that the University will “pony up the money” to afford access to information and higher speeds, while commuter students, and other students who may be located off-campus, will be subject to whatever they can afford in their homes.

He said that considering the financial burden of tuition and attending college, some students might not be able to pay additional money to have access to the same online content and resources as others.

The Daily Targum reported that residential students should not see a change in their internet access as the University relies on multiple outside providers for its internet connectivity. More than 10,000 Rutgers students live off-campus, and in 2016 approximately 57 percent of the student body was made up of both commuter and off-campus students — leaving questions about internet access unanswered for many students.

In response to today’s vote, politicians from some states have stated their intentions to push back against the decision with their own, statewide legislation. Politicians from New York, Washington and California have said that they will seek to uphold regulations in their respective states, according to CNET.

Miller said that states can try to enforce regulations, but there are still questions regarding the legality of that and if certain states will want to enforce them.

“Does the federal government under the FCC have the right to enforce media regulations on states themselves?” Miller said is one question that is still unanswered.

He said that some groups might try to seek an injunction against the FCC and that many questions will have to be answered in the courtroom.

According to CNET, part of today’s repeal includes the FCC reclassifying broadband as an “interstate information service” —  a change from its prior designation as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This stops the FCC from regulating broadband as a utility and raises questions about the ability of individual states to implement their own versions of net neutrality.

Miller said that prior to net neutrality’s rise in 2015, some people and advocacy groups had been pushing for the regulations it enforced for years, inspired by the idea of the internet as an “information superhighway.” 

Recently, and before the FCC’s vote today, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) passed a resolution titled “Restoring Internet Freedom” that opposed the repeal of net neutrality if it were to go through.

Evan Covello, RUSA president and an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior, said in an email statement that RUSA will work to encourage legislative action in response to the vote.

“Rutgers University, as a public research university, has a unique obligation to maximize educational and professional opportunity for all of its students,” Covello said. “The way in which students are able to access the internet is a fundamental part of being a student, here and across the United States. As leaders in student government, we will be in communication with the New Jersey Congressional delegation to encourage action. That will either be under the Congressional Review Act or by advocating for a new law to be put in place to overturn the FCC’s decision. We will also be working to encourage every student to call their representative in Congress about this issue.”

Ryan Stiesi

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