Sixty-eight percent of college students have used Netflix to binge-watch a television show, according to a study published by Student Life website studlife.com in November. But viewers’ experience on Netflix could change with the Federal Communications Commission’s upcoming decision on net neutrality, said Chris Wallace, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering and president of Ohio State’s Open Source Club, a student organization that promotes free, open source software.
Wallace said a lack of net neutrality could potentially impact how users experience Netflix and similar services, as companies would be forced to pay for more bandwidth to convey those services, which could raise consumer prices or decrease service quality.
Companies that refuse to pay Internet service providers for additional bandwidth could have their services “throttled,” or slowed down.
Net neutrality is the idea that these providers should treat all traffic that goes through their networks the same. The principle of net neutrality is often referred to as the “open Internet,” and it is the system by which the Internet operates today, according to the FCC website.
The FCC is set to vote on a new set of net-neutrality rules on Thursday, which would keep broadband providers from speeding up or slowing down websites based on how much they pay for bandwidth.
R. Kelly Garrett, an associate professor in the School of Communication, said there are two ways of looking at the Internet: Either all messages are treated equally or some messages are given higher priority. But network providers argue that it is important that certain messages are treated differently, he said.
Garrett said the network providers’ argument is that some messages are more important than others, and they think that the logical way to determine a message’s importance is to see how much the sender is willing to pay for speed.
On the other hand, critics say prioritizing certain Internet messages is just a way to make money.
Wallace said the decision would affect him greatly as a student who works with computer technology on a regular basis.
Without net neutrality, he said, it might become impossible for an independent programmer to compete with big companies, which would be able to buy themselves special treatment on the Internet.
The FCC’s decision has the potential to impact all students, not just ones like Wallace who are majoring in technology-related fields, Garrett said.
“College students are among the most likely to be affected by this,” he said. “If the government does not enforce net neutrality … this could have pretty serious implications for the kinds of things we would be able to do on the Internet in the future. What happens here is going to have an impact on what the Internet looks like, which is going to have an impact on how our lives, our professional lives, our home lives, look.”
On Thursday, before the net neutrality vote, the FCC will hold an open meeting to discuss community broadband and protecting and promoting the open Internet. A live webcast of the meeting will be available on FCC.gov.
Garrett said it’s important for students to understand the implications of the FCC’s decision.
“I think that we live in a world in which technology, like the Internet, and computing, and mobile phones, are so essential to every aspect of our lives that we need to educate ourselves,” he said.
“I don’t care what side students are on but … it is important that we understand there are very real implications, it’s not just about talking points. If we change how Internet works on a very fundamental level, that will have implications which will permeate society.”