What if the rules of the internet allowed your broadband provider to control your access to websites the way cable TV controls your access to channels, picking and choosing and bundling sites into select packages marketed by price? Want “Basic Net”? Fine, that gets you Google and Facebook but not YouTube or Twitter. For those, you’ll have to upgrade to “Premium.” That, of course, will cost more.
That is but one of the theoretical scenarios likely to come up during our debate tonight, when internet pioneers and former FCC officials face off at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law over this resolution:
Wrapped up in the term “net neutrality” is the question of whether the government should be regulating broadband companies more like public utilities (essentially the “pro” net neutrality view), to ensure their data pipelines are always open to all content creators at the same speed and at the same prices. That, of course, sounds fair. But critics say that approach is an innovation killer. They believe in letting market forces and competition determine the best outcome for consumers.
Of course, this gets political. The Obama administration enacted net neutrality rules, which the Trump administration only just repealed. The change takes effect next Monday, even as it faces court challenges, and while state legislatures across the U.S. gear up for their own net neutrality battles.
Something quite cool about this one: We’re staging this debate in partnership with the Newt and Jo Minow Debate Series. Newt Minow, of course, was the legendary chairman of the FCC during the Kennedy administration. And he’ll be there tonight. That’s the cool part.
The hot part will be the debate itself. This one matters. Because while Facebook and Google control the information you provide, Comcast and Verizon control the information you receive. Can you trust them? At stake, in a real way, could be your own online experience.