Chapman experts weigh in on net neutrality

Fewer than 15 percent of all Americans have access to high-speed internet, according to the Federal Communications Comission.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against California Sept. 30 to block the state’s new net neutrality law that ensures equal access to the internet. Shortly afterward, four industry groups, including USTelecom and the American Cable Association, filed another lawsuit to prevent California’s law from enforcing national net neutrality rules.

California’s net neutrality law violates the supremacy clause, which says that constitutional law trumps state law, said Thomas Bell, a professor at Chapman’s Fowler School of Law. Since the federal net neutrality laws were repealed, California cannot create a contradictory state law, because if California regulates the internet a certain way, out of state companies would have to comply, Bell said.

“States are supposed to keep regulatory effects within their borders. But it’s the internet. It’s everywhere,” Bell said.

Net neutrality gives people equal access to the internet regardless of how much consumers are willing, or able, to pay, said Hector Martinez, professor of social psychology at Chapman.

“Eliminating net neutrality allows companies to exploit the market and their profit,” Martinez said. “I’m for net neutrality because if you don’t have it, internet providers can decide which websites to make faster and slower.”

For consumers, net neutrality determines how much users have to pay to access certain sites or applications, but it impacts how much businesses can profit, Martinez said.

LouAnne Boyd, computer science and software engineering professor at Chapman, said she is concerned that repealing net neutrality results in businesses taking advantage of differential pricing, or selling the same product to different customers for different prices. The internet should mean access for all, she said.

“(Net neutrality) is complex. If it were simple, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Boyd said.

Whether you should support net neutrality depends on what you value, Martinez said.

“If you support having equal access for everyone, you should support net neutrality,” Martinez said. “If what you value is internet service providers having the freedom to maximize profits and differential pricing, then you should not support net neutrality.”

Bell said he is against net neutrality because it forces telecommunications providers to do business a certain way.

“College students might value bandwidth and not have enough money to pay for services,” he said. “In the shorter term, it’s not clear whether they will be better off.”

Net neutrality takes free and discounted services off the table, Bell said. Zero rating allows businesses to offer special deals, and this is not possible under net neutrality. Zero rating benefits customers by allowing telecommunications providers like AT&T and Hulu to offer special perks, Bell said, such as free access to Hulu with the purchase of a Spotify subscription.

“Net neutrality would not allow businesses to say ‘I want to make you a longtime fan’ and offer discounts and deals for students,” Bell said.

Bell said he believes net neutrality will hurt the business incentive to build networks for consumers, and also impact competitive pricing, which can result in better deals for them.

“Without regulation, the businesses will go back and forth, and we can get better deals and great access because of that competition,” Bell said. “If they are not getting the service, they swipe left. It’s democracy in the purest form. We want there to be lots of options.”

Once a college student moves off campus, they would not have access to campus Wi-Fi, and their internet reliability would depend on how much students are willing to spend, Martinez said.

Net neutrality could cut off the way people communicate because businesses will not invest in creating higher bandwidths. Net neutrality is ‘60s-‘70s communism − it’s a socialist data policy, Bell said.

“None of the proposals on the table say that they will regulate content, but it could open the door to more regulation,” he said.