Will the Internet change as we know it? That's the debate in front of the Federal Communications Commission as it considers new rules that could impact what is being called 'net neutrality.'
The FCC began seeking public comment on the issue in May.
"I don't think anybody is actually benefited by adding more rules and regulations. I think at minimum we need to remove rules before we impose a new one," Tom Simmons with Midcontinent Communications said.
As an Internet service provider, Midcontinent Communications officials are keeping an eye on what is going on in Washington, D.C. Simmons is the Midcontinent Senior Vice President of Public Policy and is watching the debate over 'net neutrality.'
"Our take on it has been a solution in search of a problem," Simmons said.
'Net neutrality' is the phrase used to describe the rules that the Internet has been operating under for years. It means that Internet service providers cannot favor some web content, such as video services and top websites, and block connections to others. Under 'net neutrality,' Internet speeds and service has to be neutral for all companies like Google and Netflix that provide content over the Internet.
Following a court ruling in January, which impacts the FCC’s jurisdiction over Internet providers, some fear that 'net neutrality' could be impacted by new rules now being considered by the FCC.
"It's an important issue. It's got some controversy attached to it. The one thing we want to make sure that we have is an open Internet that facilitates the amazing gains that we've made in productivity," Senator John Thune (R) South Dakota said.
"What they're saying is basically a fast lane, so that deep-pocketed corporations can pay to get their content streamed online faster than other people's. The whole point of net neutrality is that content from the beginning of the Internet has always been treated neutrally," Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota said.
Franken fears the rules being considered by the FCC and its chairman, Tom Wheeler, could set up fast and slow lanes for the Internet. It could allow companies such as Netflix to strike deals with providers to optimize their service.
"I think this is very dangerous right now. New startups will not be able to compete with big corporations if big corporations are able to pay to have their content travel in a fast lane and that's what the commissioner of the FCC is talking about in their new rule and I'm dead set against this," Franken said.
Franken believes the FCC should classify the Internet service providers, like Midcontinent, as a Title II 'common carrier,' which means they would be regulated like other utilities.
Simmons says it would be a step backwards for the Internet.
"One of the concerns is that the regulations under Title II were put together years and years and years ago in a different era. I'm not sure all those rules are in fact applicable," Simmons said.
Simmons says a 'common carrier' classification could mean more regulations for the service providers, higher costs and less deployment of better broadband service. He doesn't buy the argument that the current FCC rules being considered would cause companies to create fast and slow lanes for the Internet.
"I don't think our customers would allow that to happen. We've got pretty smart customers out there. They take a look at their speeds every once and awhile. They make sure they're getting the speeds that they bargained for and we work very hard to make sure they do," Simmons said.
Simmons says Midcontinent just doubled Internet speeds for its customers.
"So, I'm not sure when cable companies like us are voluntarily doing those type of things that there is really a reason anybody should be terribly concerned about blocking. Certainly, not our philosophy, not our policy and not in our plans," Simmons said.
Over the next several months, the FCC will be examining its plans and policies as it works to navigate the debate over 'net neutrality.'
The FCC is taking comment on its proposed rules through September 10.
For more information on the FCC rulemaking process click here.
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