Studying the Impact of Net Neutrality

Posted on: March 2, 2015

NetNeutrality-WPOn the heels of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) landmark vote approving new rules that support net neutrality, MSU's Quello Center is launching a Net Neutrality Impact Study.

One of the most important Internet policy issues with potentially far-reaching consequences for all Internet users, net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications, regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking particular content or services.

The FCC order, issued on Feb. 26, is the latest attempt, argue its proponents, to safeguard an open Internet. The order reclassifies fixed and mobile Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, as telecommunications service providers (common carriers). Under the new rules, ISPs must not block or throttle traffic and paid prioritization is prohibited. Moreover, the FCC put protections for users and edge service providers into place to safeguard an open Internet.

"It is difficult to over-state the significance of this decision, not only for network neutrality, but for the future of Internet policy in the United States and worldwide,” said William Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, who is leading the Net Neutrality Impact Study.

With the FCC and White House showing their support for net neutrality regulations, the issue now awaits debate and responses from the courts and Congress. Meanwhile, the Quello Center will be researching the impact of this regulation, which changes the ground on which this debate will be fought.

“The goal of this research is to provide a non-partisan, unbiased assessment of the short-, medium- and long-term implications of this far-reaching order to inform practitioners in business, government and the public at large,” said Johannes M. Bauer, Professor and Chair of the Department of Media and Information, who is a member of the research team. “Our hope is to contribute to preserving the openness of the web, free speech, and the dynamics of the Internet.”

Besides Dutton and Bauer, other MSU and Quello faculty involved in the Net Neutrality Impact Study, include Steve Wildman, Professor of Media and Information and former Chief Economist for the FCC; Adam Candeub, Professor of Law and Director of MSU’s Intellectual Property, Information & Communications Law Program; and Jay Pil Choi, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Economics. Other Quello Center staff members, including Mitchell Shapiro, Adjunct Specialist in the Department of Media and Information, also are committed to this project.

“The net neutrality debate has galvanized a wide variety of stakeholders in opposing camps around the wisdom of this regulation on the future of a global, open and secure Internet,” Dutton said. “Proponents argue that net neutrality will keep the Internet open and in line with its early vision by not advantaging those who can pay for fast lanes, while opponents have raised numerous concerns about the role regulation could play in constraining efficiency, competition, investment and innovation of the Internet and patterns of its use by individuals, households, business and industry.

“It has become a politically and commercially contentious issue that has become increasingly partisan and commensurately over simplified around competing positions. However, from all sides of this debate, the implications are expected to be of major importance to the future of the Internet in the United States, but also globally, as other nations will be influenced by policy and regulatory shifts in the United States.”

Because of this, it is important that the value and risk of net neutrality become a focus of independent empirical research.

“Our research needs to be analytically skeptical and seek to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions on both sides of the debate,” Dutton said.

The Quello Center is well positioned to conduct this research. It was established by an endowment in honor of former FCC Commissioner, James H. Quello, to study media and information policy in a neutral and dispassionate way.

The Quello Center welcomes expressions of support and offers of collaboration or sponsorship on this important and challenging issue for policy research. If you wish to comment on, or support this research initiative, please contact Dutton at quello@msu.edu.

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