Ben Hannam, an Elon University associate professor in the School of Communications, sheds light on how net neutrality will impact the Elon community.
Q: What is net neutrality?
A: It’s kind of a large, ambiguous, term kind of like evolution. It can mean so many things. For me, net neutrality is the principle that all content on the Internet is delivered at the same speed at the same rate.
Q: How would you describe how net neutrality was addressed before and after the John Oliver clip?
A: I think the John Oliver clip put a face on it and made people feel like there was a threat. Before, it seemed like things nerdy people were just talking about behind closed doors. I feel that John Oliver’s HBO rant made people say ‘There’s something really at stake here.’ After that, you see people beginning to talk about it more. He was part of a catalyst for people who really didn’t have a position on it and bringing it to the forefront.
Q: Where’s your level of optimism and trust with cable companies and Internet service providers?
A: I would love to have options, to be honest with you. I would love to be able to price out my Internet service providers the same way that I do car shopping or the same way that I do when I’m picking a computer and an operating system. I want to be able to compare and contrast and look at reviews and look at service calls and look at ease of setup and how quickly they go together with the components in my house. As an entitled American with first world problems, I want to have choice. When you have Internet service providers and they talk about Time Warner and Comcast, and they’re basically carving out geographic regions that they service and they don’t service, so when your option is them or nobody, it doesn’t seem fair, does it? I’m for net neutrality because I’m hoping that it will generate more competition and that as needs for consumers increase, there might be other options to fill those needs.
Q: Last week, the FCC decision was 3-2 in favor of net neutrality. Did you expect the vote to go that way?
A: I was cautiously optimistic. It falls into election years. It falls into political scenes. It falls into financial things. It’s not a singular topic. Comcast was out ringing the bells and fighting the good fight. To be honest, the FCC said they weren’t going to regulate it [net neutrality], and Comcast’s argument was valid… I’m happy with the decision, but I can certainly see how they’d be [upset].
Q: How will this decision affect Elon students? What should students understand about net neutrality?
A: Right now, content has been locked into an Internet service provider. You’ve got AOL and Time Warner packages and you’ve had to upgrade to get HBO, and it comes packaged with 100 channels nobody wants. You’ve had to pay for the content that you want and the content that you don’t want. They act like, ‘Oh, we’re giving you 250 channels,’ and you’re like, ‘Yeah, but there’s only 10 good ones.’ If ESPN falls next and offers services a la carte, it’s a game changer for the way we distribute the content that we want. The people who are putting out good content will rise to the top and the people offering 190 channels that you don’t want are going to go the way of the buffalo. Nobody wants to pay for QVC if they’re not going to use it. What [the FCC’s decision] does is put the consumer in the driver’s seat, which is great because it could spawn a whole new generation of business, a whole new generation of content, and we don’t even know where it’s going to go yet… There’s an optimistic future about where the Internet is going next.