The repeal of net neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission in early December 2017 has a number of people questioning the future of their access to the internet.
Since 1970, rules restricted corporate power over businesses and people using the internet. Since 2005, bans on blocking and throttling or slowing down content to users have existed.
The repeal eliminates oversight from the FCC, allowing big providers to rule the market. Companies, such as Verizon and Comcast, will now have the ability to throttle, block or charge users for accessing specific sites and content. For example, because Verizon owns Yahoo!, it could charge users for using Google.
Supporters of the repeal believe net neutrality prevented innovation and that this new system will promote competition and lower prices.
Due to their dependency on broadband services, rural communities around the nation will suffer the greatest with this new system.
According to the FCC, high-speed internet is inaccessible to 710,000 residents in rural Wisconsin.
In 2016-2017, the Broadband Task Forge for Portage County initiated a needs assessment for high-speed internet in the county. The report found respondents strongly believe every household in the county should have high-speed internet. Respondents view accessibility to high-speed internet beneficial to the local economy as well. The report also found a larger percentage of rural residents paid a monthly internet bill of $160 than urban residents who paid a monthly bill of $60 to $80.
In comparison, the national average internet bill ranges from $40 to $50 per month. About 7 percent of respondents didn’t have an internet connection. Over half of respondents who don’t have internet said it was because of the high cost.
In spite of the recent repeal of net neutrality, a number of communities around the country are putting their residents before profit. The Institute of Local Self-Reliance lists 95 communities with municipality-run, publicly owned fiber-to-the-home networks. Municipality-run broadband lower prices, boosts local economy and provides equal access to all residents. Researchers at Harvard found city-run internet services cost 2.9 to 50 percent less than corporate providers, such as Comcast and AT&T.
Chattanooga is one of the several Tennessee communities with a successful city-run network. Run by the city’s electric utility, the service provides 100 Mbps connection for $57.99 per month. Compared to AT&T, which offers 50 Mbps connection for $40 per month, the city-run service is the better option for Chattanooga residents.
Stevens Point attempted to establish a city-run internet provider several years ago, in hopes to provide equal internet access to all residents at a reasonable price.
“We began to anticipate that the time was coming where the major internet providers might start discriminating or charging different users of the internet,” said Gary Wescott, former mayor of Stevens Point.
During his time in office, Wescott and his colleagues conducted an intricate analysis of the city’s need for its own internet provider. Even though a number of community members and government officials backed the plan, cost became the largest prohibiting factor.
“We recognized that having that infrastructure in place was going to be an important tool for the future,” said Wescott
The future of a possible city-run internet service is uncertain for the city of Stevens Point as the repeal of net neutrality hasn’t taken full effect.