Software developers Alex Gutierrez. left, and Ryeker Herndon of Shift3 Technologies in Fresno work at their computers. Herndon supports federal net neutrality regulations being kept in place, maintaining that it's unwise to roll them back if no alternatives are in place. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on December 13, 2017 - 4:45 PM
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The argument over whether or not to end net neutrality has found its way into the Central Valley, with members of the tech community voicing their opinions.

Net neutrality, which prohibits Internet service providers (ISPs) from charging extra for certain online services and websites, has been a hot-button topic in the U.S., with the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai saying that he favors the rules ending for service providers that include Verizon Wireless, Xfinity and AT&T.

The net neutrality regulations were put in place in place in 2015, and since then arguments over the issue have changed, said Ryeker Herndon, a software developer for Fresno’s Shift3 Technologies, which designs websites and apps.

“Because in 2015, there was no law regulating anything, so that was — the debate then — was: Should we put something in place, some kind of federal stopgap, so that that won’t happen,” said Herndon, a member of Fresno’s tech community supporting the continuation of net neutrality regulations.

Another is Andrew Runner, co-founder of Root Access Hackerspace, a coworking space in Fresno for computer experts, crafters and others. Runner said that without net neutrality, extra charges could be added for Internet services provided by Google Search, Facebook, Netflix and other providers.

Runner likened the issue to ordering a $15 dinner now, “But instead, with net neutrality removed, you pay $10 for the steak and $8 for the potato and $6 for your veggies on the side, what have you.”

But Pai, the FCC chairman, has argued net neutrality rules have harmed the Internet, describing them as “heavy-handed.” Instead, Pai prefers a market-based approach that he has claimed is better for business.

In a blog post, David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Comcast Corp., which owns Xfinity, said fewer regulations on the Internet would allow more competition, as well as more innovation and investment.

“Consumers deserve choice and a thriving, innovative, competitive marketplace under light-touch regulation,” Cohen said.

But Runner disputes the executives’ claims and maintains ending net neutrality would actually hurt consumers.

“This has been done in other countries where net neutrality isn’t instituted. It’s not just an Orwellian, ‘1984 ’ kind of view of the future,” Runner said. “There’s no need to kind of speculate as to what the brave, new world could be. We are already seeing those ISPs across the world do this once they don’t have any regulation.”

Others have argued that despite the rollbacks on other protection laws, net neutrality will remain in place, as it is a better form of service for consumers. Cohen, for example, said there will not be any Internet “fast lanes” that allow broadband providers to essentially collect tolls from Web companies wanting priority access to services, nor will there be any throttling access to lawful content.

“This is not the end of net neutrality,” he added. “Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change.”

Herndon cautioned that while wanted to agree with Cohen’s assurance, he believed some form of regulation should remain in place.

“It’s sort of going back to that baby with the bathwater idea, you know. Why throw it out now? Obviously, what’s going to come into place, if anything,” Herndon asked. “And also, not being able to predict what these companies are going to do — how they’re going to change, how their leadership’s going to change — there’s no oversight for that.”

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