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Destler Dodge

I'm all for keeping the internet open and equal for everyone, but I think we're trying to defend the net with a double-edged sword. As Americans, it's natural for us to spring into action when our freedoms feel threatened. However, sometimes we become so enthusiastic about it that we latch onto a defense method that ends up doing as much harm as it does good. Title II will save the internet, sure, but it will also stifle innovation, spike internet bills and add enough regulations to make our heads spin.

Some of us may remember Sept. 10, the day that many websites such as Google and Reddit displayed symbolic loading symbols on their sites with a message attached that mentioned net neutrality. Despite this, not everyone knows what net neutrality is or what the best solution is. Net neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot give preferential treatment to certain websites. Without net neutrality, we may face a time when certain websites load much slower than others because some websites don't want to pay fees to ISPs in exchange for priority loading speed for consumers. We may witness an era of internet "slow lanes." This is certainly something that no one wants, but how should we approach the issue? One solution that has gained a great deal of backing is the President's proposed plan to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Under Title II, strict regulations would be applied to ISPs. Being classified as a common carrier means that the internet would be treated as a public utility, like electricity or water. Companies like Comcast and Verizon would be given no room to charge sites for premium consumer access; however, there would also be very little room for competition. There is worry that the government would begin regulating internet prices. ISPs are opposed to this because they feel it would impose regulations that are so strict that they would impede innovation and the development of the internet. Additionally, making internet service into a common carrier would cause a rise in the average price of internet access. Common carriers as classified under Title II are, under FCC regulations, required to pay 16.1 percent of the service's revenue to the Universal Service Fund. If the average internet bill is currently $45 per month, the bill of an internet consumer would increase by over $7 per month. This could lose ISPs a great deal of money, as some people may be unable to pay this new fee on the internet.

While net neutrality is an extremely important issue and needs to be addressed, Title II is not the solution we are looking for. It is true that using Title II would effectively block ISPs from giving preferential treatment to sites that pay premiums, but it would also mean higher prices and stifling regulations on the internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has currently proposed a solution that would apply Title II to the connection between content providers and ISPs but not to the connection between ISPs and internet users. The goal of this "hybrid" is to effectively block out paid prioritization without over-regulating the net and interfering with industry. However, Wheeler has not yet circulated his plan to the four FCC commissioners. We do not yet know what exactly his plan entails, but it sounds promising.

If you would like to make your opinion heard by the FCC, you can email Wheeler at Tom.Wheeler@fcc.gov, use the FCC's dedicated open internet comment email at openinternet@fcc.gov (but keep in mind that this is considered filing a document into an official FCC proceeding and will make your comment, name and email public) or call one of the numbers listed here, which include options for TTY and videophone ASL.