Survey: US consumers favour strong net neutrality rules

A Consumer Reports survey shows that a majority of Americans favour net neutrality rules that prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down lawful online content. The results come as pro-consumer groups hold a ‘Day of Advocacy on September 27th, urging legislators in Washington, D.C., to support such rules.

But the next step for net neutrality lies with the Federal Communications Commission, which received nearly 22 million comments during the summer of 2017 on a proposed plan to undo existing net neutrality rules.

The principle of network neutrality assumes all Internet traffic should be delivered to consumers the same way, regardless of whether an ISP has a financial stake in favouring content from one provider over another.

The FCC’s current rules were enacted by the FCC under former chairman Tom Wheeler. They bar ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon from taking actions such as blocking web content from their competitors or entering ‘paid prioritisation’ deals in which some online companies would pay to get their content delivered faster.

Earlier in 2017, a revamped FCC, now headed by Chairman Ajit Pai, proposed undoing the classification of Internet providers as ‘common carriers’ under Title II of the Communications Act. That would strip the FCC of the authority to keep ISPs from blocking, throttling, or entering paid prioritisation deals for content.

Any major regulatory change by the FCC requires the agency to give the public a chance to weigh in with its opinions. The agency accepted public comments during a three-month period that ended in August.

The FCC is required to take the feedback into account while deciding whether to push ahead with the plan, though officials have said that the quantity of the comments on each side of the issue wouldn’t drive the decision.

The five-member commission is expected to vote on the plan, which has the backing of many ISPs, by the end of the year. Advocates suggest that Congress could address the issue by passing a net neutrality law.

In July, Consumer Reports conducted a nationally representative phone survey of more than 1,000 Americans to assess attitudes toward the FCC’s regulations on net neutrality. One main finding was that the majority of Americans—57 per cent—support the current net neutrality regulations that ban ISPs from blocking or discriminating against lawful content on the internet. Sixteen per cent said they opposed these regulations, while about a quarter didn’t express an opinion on the topic.

An even larger majority—67 per cent—said that ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to choose which websites, apps, or streaming services their customers can access. Almost as many—63 per cent—don’t think an ISP should be allowed to modify or edit content consumers try to access on the Internet.

When it comes to paid prioritisation deals, in which ISPs can provide faster delivery of content to companies that pay a fee for it, roughly half the respondents—48 per cent—said they didn’t believe such practices should be permitted, while 26 per cent said they should permitted, and 26 per cent expressed no opinion.

Internet access is obviously important to the survey respondents. Seventy-nine per cent say they rely on the Internet at least five days a week. And 68 per cent say they rely on it every single day.

“This survey underscores the need for net neutrality rules, as well as the importance of the Internet in our daily lives,” remarked Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Clearly, consumers are not clamouring for the repeal of the rules, yet that’s the direction the FCC is headed. If the FCC rolls back these rules, people would likely end up paying more for the online access and speeds they have today, and we would no longer have the level playing field for businesses large and small to compete online,” he warned.

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