PEORIA — A decision to roll back net-neutrality regulations could leave consumers with access to fewer, more costly internet services and widen the gap in accessibility to those options between low-income and wealthy customers.
Those are among the possible consequences of a Federal Communications Commission vote scheduled for Thursday on whether to repeal open internet rules enacted under the Barack Obama administration, according to two Peoria-area experts in online media fields.
The Donald Trump administration has framed the deregulation as move more friendly for the free marketplace than the current rules, which mandate that internet service providers give equal access to all online content.
Such rules discourage investment in infrastructure that could ultimately provide faster and more widely available internet access, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said when he first announced his intention to roll back net neutrality regulations.
But Edward Lamoureux, a professor in the interactive media and communication departments at Bradley University, said free market forces failed to produce that type of infrastructure investment for years before the current regulations took effect.
"If you want to make this argument that the free market is going to solve all these problems, you'd have to provide evidence," Lamoureux said. "There simply isn't the kind of trickle-down services that are being argued here — and (net-neutrality rules) have only been in place for less than two years."
Lamoureux added that a decision to deregulate, however, would further widen the digital divide — the difference in access to online content and tools between low-income and more affluent consumers.
"I think anybody who understands this issue at all knows that tiered pricing is going to provide more privilege to people with means," Lamoureux said. "It hurts education, it hurts industry, it hurts everybody."
Chad Udell, managing partner at Float Mobile Learning in Morton, said the current net neutrality regulations allow a degree of certainty for the apps his firm develops for business-to-business sales — an internet service provider can't currently make a change to a network that will hobble or invalidate Float's products.
"This type of thing is going to be anti-startup," Udell said. "Sometimes regulations are necessary to keep things fair."
What Udell finds more unnerving is the possibility of choice being taken away from consumers — without the regulations, internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon control what anyone can access online.
In theory, wildly popular platforms could become unavailable if one service provider attains exclusive access.
"It certainly bodes poorly — when choice is removed from the marketplace, customers ultimately pay the price," Udell said. He invented an example: "Sharing your pictures with Grandma and Grandpa could become impossible if they don't have a service provider that supports the Facebook package."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.