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What Could Change After Net Neutrality Repeal


Let's hear the case against repealing net neutrality rules. The Federal Communications Commission votes on repeal today. The FCC is expected to overturn a policy from President Obama's time which tells your Internet service provider to sell you a level playing field with the same access to all Internet sites. Many, many companies have a stake in this rule, among them, by the way, NPR, whose legal counsel opposes deregulation on behalf of the company. On this program, we've heard President Trump's FCC chairman who favors repeal. Now let's hear Mitchell Baker, of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, who does not.

MITCHELL BAKER: Here are the things that become possible. One, blocking content. So your ISP provides access to whatever content it is you want to see. These rules change that. ISPs might have packages like cable TV does, and you might have to pay differently depending on the packages, and those packages may well be designed to be most profitable for them but not useful for you.

INSKEEP: Are you telling me that the Internet service provider might make me buy a bunch of websites, the equivalent of channels, in order to get to the sites that I actually really want?

BAKER: Yes. That's a possibility. So imagine sites just not available to you anymore. Of course, that could be any nature of site, and it could be for any reason. So I sometimes wonder what happens if you express political views that someone doesn't like? Does your site disappear? Does it slow down? That sounds melodramatic, but the rules allow these sorts of things.

INSKEEP: So what does it mean if Internet service providers got back these powers to block sites, to slow down sites, to bundle sites in ways that are convenient for them?

BAKER: It means that access to the fundamental communication channel of our time, which is the Internet - almost everything goes over the Internet - that what content's available, whether you can access it, how the payment works is all determined by a very small handful of people with very little constraint. So you take all of the things that we were so happy to get away from in cable TV. You bring them back, you make them stronger and you apply them to every aspect of our life.

INSKEEP: So that sounds pretty worrisome. But let me present to you a couple of arguments that have been made in favor of getting rid of the net neutrality rules. This comes from the FCC chairman Ajit Pai who was on the program the other day, and he's arguing in favor of a freer approach. Let's listen.


AJIT PAI: I'm in the somewhat unusual position, as a Republican chairman of the FCC, to say that President Clinton got it right in 1996 when he established a free-market based approach to this new thing called the Internet. And the Internet economy we have is a result of his light-touch regulatory vision. We saw $1.5 trillion of investment in networks, we saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that applied to this Internet.

INSKEEP: Isn't that all true?

BAKER: Well, so first I'd say we're not in 1996. And, what makes sense at one period of time doesn't necessarily make sense for another.

INSKEEP: Are you saying the Internet was a younger, smaller, less dangerous place in 1996? Is that your point?

BAKER: Well, certainly it was younger. Certainly the the business models and what's happening and what's possible are changing. Certainly now we understand what ISPs are interested in doing. So in 1996, I think the idea that they would begin blocking and changing sites, the idea that it could be turned into cable TV, like, those were ideas that weren't really clear to us at the time. And so to say that the system that worked in that generation is the same one that we should use today could conceivably be correct, but, on its own it's not a very strong argument.

INSKEEP: Well, let me follow up on that then because another case that is made for getting rid of the net neutrality rules is that they've only been around a couple years, since 2015. That's when the Obama administration approved them, which means that smartphones did develop in the absence of net neutrality rules, and the Internet did explode in the absence of net neutrality rules and the options available to people exploded immensely up until 2015. Why wouldn't that just continue to happen?

BAKER: Well, for one thing, you know, businesses change and adapt, and businesses get smarter about how to maximize their revenue as you have more experience. And so now we have another decade of experience, you know, with Internet and Internet access, and so therefore our response to that should also change.

INSKEEP: Mitchell Baker is with the Mozilla Foundation. She joined us from our member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Thanks very much.

BAKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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