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Most Americans endorse net neutrality protection

The Federal Communications Commission on May 19th took the first steps toward dismantling the regulatory framework created in 2015 to protect net neutrality. But a new Consumer Reports survey found that a majority of Americans value those protections.

The 2015 rules were designed by the FCC under former chairman Tom Wheeler to safeguard consumers from practices that could restrict their choice of online content or drive up prices. They currently prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and Verizon from blocking or throttling lawful online traffic. They also ban ‘paid prioritisation’ deals that would create fast Internet lanes for content providers with the means to pay for them.

In the nationally representative survey, more than two-thirds of respondents said they oppose the idea of an ISP blocking online access to the movie-streaming service of a competitor. Sixty-two per cent also reject the idea of an ISP downgrading the transmission quality of products put out by a competitive streaming service.

According to current FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the 2015 rules against such practices are unnecessary, contending that the ‘light-touch’ regulation that preceded them worked just fine. The May 19th proposal for curtailing the commission’s authority to impose net neutrality rules was approved by a partisan two-to-one vote, prompting concern from consumer advocacy organisations such as Public Knowledge and the ACLU.

“Protecting net neutrality means preserving the internet as it was designed—a free, open platform for all that has spurred tremendous competition and innovation,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilisation arm of Consumer Reports. “Eliminating the Open Internet Order takes away the Internet’s level playing field and would allow a select few corporations to choose winners and losers, preventing consumers from accessing the content that they want, when they want it.”

Among the survey’s findings:

  • On May 4-7, Consumer Reports asked 1,008 US residents if they thought it was okay for an ISP to block a competitive streaming movie service to promote its own service. Sixty-seven per cent said that practice should not be allowed.
  • About one in 10, though, thought it was okay because that’s the way business works. Seven per cent thought it was all right, provided they were granted a discount on the ISP’s streaming service. And 5 per cent said it was okay as long as they’re able to pay the ISP an extra fee for access to the blocked service.
  • The responses were similar when Consumer Reports asked respondents a slightly more complicated question about whether an ISP should be allowed to downgrade a competitor’s streaming service, reserving its highest-quality technology for its own service. In that case, the competing service wouldn’t look as good unless the competitor agreed to pay the ISP extra to get comparable quality, a cost likely to be passed on to consumers.
  • Though 62 per cent of the respondents said that practice should not be allowed, 14 per cent said it was okay because that’s how business works. Another 14 per cent said it was okay as long as they got a discount on the ISP’s service.
  • A higher proportion of millennials (22 per cent) than baby boomers (10 per cent) and members of Generation X (9 per cent) were okay with an ISP streaming a competitor’s service in poorer quality for business reasons.

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