For Ryan Niemi and Lee Matchett, co-owners at FireServe Broadband Internet in downtown Klamath Falls, the end of net neutrality is a reason to celebrate.
More specifically, Niemi said complications with the net neutrality rules kept them from sourcing bandwidth inexpensively enough to give customers faster speeds. Right now, they offer packages that range between $20-$90 depending on speed and data use.
“The pricing would’ve been a fair bit over the $100 mark otherwise,” Niemi said of their higher-end offerings.
Internet users across the nation continue to show concern after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality, a series of rules that some say restricts how Internet service providers (ISPs) run the web.
The rules were first put into place in 2015 under the Obama administration as a response to keep large providers from slowing down, or “throttling,” certain services. Comcast specifically came under fire from the Bush administration’s FCC in 2008 after reportedly throttling a specific type of file sharing system known as BitTorrent.
As for local business and consumer effects, it remains unclear what could ultimately happen over time.
Meanwhile, many network experts say it’s more important than ever for people to start paying attention to the issue. More people continue to use the Internet for many day-to-day functions from shopping to setting up doctors appointments.
At least 77 percent of households in the nation had some form of broadband Internet connection as of 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Rural network concerns
Though the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal Title II net neutrality rules in December 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate must decide to uphold the decision. U.S. President Donald Trump would then sign the motion into law.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC selected by Trump, has argued that the Title II regulations kept smaller rural ISPs from expanding their own networks, though some dispute these claims.
Niemi said getting bandwidth costs down helps them cope with the increasing bandwidth demands of their current wireless customers, adding that use from their own services have increased two times more over last year.
“In the 18-year history of our company, we have never had to raise pricing,” Niemi said. “Rolling back the net neutrality rules and increasing flexibility on how we can source bandwidth helps us avoid needing to raise prices as customers have continued increasing their bandwidth use.”
Don Kewley, operations manager at Ashland Fiber Network (AFN), said he sees how removing net neutrality rules could be beneficial to smaller networks, including AFN, that choose to maintain a nonpartisan open access network.
Still, Kewley said he thinks things should stay the way they have been. Most benefits, according to Kewley, would be geared toward larger providers, which could now regulate content and drive traffic toward certain websites or services as they see fit.
Kewley said this could cost larger ISP customers their privacy and consumer rights, adding that some providers may be able to pick and choose which websites they can view and influence how their customers shop.
“It was designed for just that,” Kewley said of net neutrality. “We don’t want to be controlling, throttling or doing any of the things that interfere with a subscriber’s right to access information and freely communicate online.”
Regardless of what happens, Kewley said AFN wants to continue the same level of services and open internet access as they have in the past. AFN currently owns about 34 percent of its market with larger providers.
Kewley said that most larger ISPs also benefit from their ability to track and distribute customer information, a move that removing net neutrality could also bring in depending on an ISP’s goals.
“There’s not a lot of money to be made in this industry unless you provide customers with a unique service proposition or sell their information to marketing groups or engage in pay-to-play search engine optimization schemes.” Kewley said.
Niemi described net neutrality as a “massive regulatory compliance burden” that has halted their own expansion plans and reinvestment to their company. FireServe first launched back in 2000 as a major provider for dial-up modem services in Klamath County.
FireServe’s own coverage radius includes areas throughout Klamath County and the Rogue Valley. In June 2017, the company announced that they also connect directly to Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter through fiber out of Seattle.
As Matchett and Niemi continue their own expansions, they say their overall plan is to build up their own network with faster gigabit fiber connections, a move they say net neutrality only hinders.
Matchett added that any additional time they took to manage compliance with the rules also cut into their own time working with customers or improving their equipment. And even then, Matchett said there was no guarantee that a smaller ISP could get everything right.
Niemi said he was especially concerned about the FCC’s 400-page list of net neutrality rules. He said that much of the text within could only be understood by most telecommunications lawyers and experts.
In addition, several of the enforcement actions drafted for much larger ISPs could be much more severe for a smaller operation.
“A single enforcement action and we could be out of business,” Niemi said.
Dan Faltesek, assistant professor of new media, social media and cultural analytics at Oregon State University, said that it’s more important than ever for consumers to pay attention and realize what these choices could mean for their own future.
This is especially significant since more people than ever rely on Internet connections to shop, watch videos, and even schedule doctor appointments through programs such as Skype, according to Faltesek.
“It will affect your health, your democracy, your business,” Faltesek said. “It’s going to have to be a thing you’re going to have to think about.”
Faltesek’s research, which focuses on an ever-growing digital communication landscape, has touched on many facets of net neutrality effects. He has also contributed to “Regulating the Web: Network Neutrality and the Fate of the Open Internet,” a collection of Internet research from various experts.
Faltesek said that most arguments as of late focus on repercussions to consumers, though there are also many economical communication issues in terms of the size of most Internet provides. Faltesek also said that removing net neutrality rules will not affect the future progress of smaller ISPs, unless they have specific plans to block or edit what individuals access.
“It’s entirely possible, at the end of the day, that consumers won’t see very much implications,” Faltesek said.
Faltesek added that many ideas of what the Internet used to be have been romanticized by some. The Internet first started as a government-funded communications project, which eventually grew into the networks many utilize today.
Who could benefit?
Costs could easily add up for smaller ISPs, which have had to charge the same rates for each customer regardless of their bandwidth use. Without net neutrality, rural providers could create more pricing packages.
Jeff Dickson, associate professor and program director for information technology and health informatics at Oregon Institute of Technology, said he sees how this could be burdensome in the eyes of smaller ISPs.
Dickson said consumers who do more online, such as heavy streaming or downloading, essentially pay the same amount as those who simply browse the Internet.
“ISPs can then have the freedom, without net neutrality, to choose which kind of packages they want to offer,” Dickson said.
But Dickson said that the idea of net neutrality was to allow businesses and anyone who has the Internet to have an equal share free of ISP-imposed restrictions. Without net neutrality, Dickson said there is also a risk of service plans and agreements changing, especially based on the amount of bandwidth people use for certain services.
“It really depends on what the ISP companies want to do,” Dickson said.
Without the rules, smaller businesses may not be able to compete with other services who can afford higher-level speed packages from providers, if they chose to offer faster or slower lanes of web traffic.
“(Small businesses) have as much of the Internet as that larger organization has,” Dickson said. “Without net neutrality in place, that could change.”