Net neutrality: Locals weigh in on the debate

Net neutrality: Locals weigh in on the debate

Locals began weighing in on the raging debate involving net neutrality.

President Barack Obama wants the FCC to reclassify Internet service as a public utility and put a ban on paid prioritization for Internet traffic. Basically, if Obama gets his way, Internet service providers would be prohibited from establishing fast and slow lanes for information coming over their networks.

"Net neutrality is saying that both users and content providers can equally use the Internet without the Internet service provider cutting somebody off, or running them at a slower speed,” said Ken Walsh, Ph.D., a professor in the University of New Orleans Department of Management and Information Systems.

President Obama laid out his position in a video released by the White House.

"Cable companies can't decide which online stores you can shop at or which streaming services you can use, and they can't let any company pay for priority over its competitors,” the president said.

Marjorie Esman of the local ACLU said net neutrality is needed to protect consumers.

"You can't have a situation in which, you know, a consumer wants to research a product and some company has paid for better access than their competitors,” said Esman.

The industry, however, is blasting the president's idea. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association put out the following statement:

"We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and call for extreme Title II regulation. The cable industry strongly supports an open Internet, is building an open internet, and strongly believes that over-regulating the fastest growing technology in our history will not advance the cause of Internet freedom. There is no dispute about the propriety of transparency rules and bans on discrimination and blocking. But this tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results.

"Heavily regulating the Internet will lead to slower Internet growth, higher prices for consumers, and the threat of excessive intervention by the government in the working of the Internet. This will also have severe and profound implications internationally, as the United States loses the high ground in arguing against greater control of the Internet by foreign governments. There is no substantive justification for this overreach, and no acknowledgment that it is unlawful to prohibit paid prioritization under Title II. We will fight vigorously against efforts to impose this backwards policy.

"The FCC is an independent agency and it should exercise independent judgment in crafting new rules. This is truly a matter that belongs in Congress and only Congress should make a policy change of this magnitude. Congress can easily unravel the legal and jurisdictional knot that has tied up the FCC in crafting sustainable open Internet rules, without resorting to rules of the rotary-dial phone era. We urge Congress to swiftly exercise leadership of this important issue."

On the flip side, content providers like Netflix support the president's stance.

“We see the beginning of it with what's going on with Netflix, so in the Netflix situation, Netflix paid the Internet service providers for better service to make sure its customers could view movies well,” Walsh said.

Walsh also said things could change for the worse in the future as Internet providers become more powerful.

"If your Internet service provider started a company that sold goods and competed against Amazon, they might just not show Amazon, and when you go to buy something, you see only the companies that they're interested in,” he said.

"Or a political candidate maybe can pay for faster bandwidth than their opponent and so you can't learn about their opponent," Esman said. That's not a way for Democracy to function.”

Still, Walsh believes moderation is needed in terms of considering new regulations.

"It's an issue that we should look at with a scalpel rather than a machete," he said.

The two U.S. Senate candidates facing a runoff in Louisiana were asked about the president's position.

“I understand the power of having everyone connected to the high speed Internet, but I also understand that there is the other side of that argument, so I'm not sure that I agree with President Obama on this point," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. "We have Sentry Link that's the third largest Internet provider in our state, and they're in Monroe, and they employ 5,000 people. I'm a huge supporter of their power as an economic provider ... So there are two sides to this story. I'm not sure that I agree with the president on this. I want to be very Louisiana focused.”

Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, issued the following statement objecting to the president's stance.

"President Obama's proposal to put government regulators in charge of the internet is a bad idea. The innovation that has made internet so valuable to so many would quickly be squashed by government oversight. We can protect the interests of the public and preserve the dynamism of the internet without giving the government the power." 

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