What the FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision Means for Rural Internet Users

Dec 15, 2017

Credit FCC

On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) overturned its 2015 decision that reinstated rules blocking internet service providers (ISPs) from reducing speeds, blocking, or charging more for certain content. That move could have a large impact on rural customers, who often have fewer choices for ISPs.

Chris Owens, president of Hubris Communications, a small ISP in Western Kansas, says this ruling fundamentally changes the internet for everyone.  His company is one of 41 ISPs that signed a letter opposing the ruling, fearing that it would give large corporations more power and ultimately decrease innovation and competition.

He said without net neutrality regulations, cable companies would have blocked or slowed down video streaming services like Netflix that compete with cable television, and phone companies would have done the same to voice over IP programs like Skype that allow cheap international calls.

“If net neutrality hadn’t existed over the ‘90s, we wouldn’t have any of these things now,” Owens said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who grew up in Parsons, Kansas, says the new FCC decision may help people in rural areas get better internet access. because with fewer regulations, companies will be more likely to invest in rural broadband infrastructure.

Owens disagrees. He said that cable and DSL companies will now focus on profiting more off of existing customers rather than seeking to expand their customer base by reaching rural areas.

Scott Miller, CTO of Kansas Broadband, which provides wireless internet to rural communities, says it’s possible that the FCC’s ruling will increase investments in rural broadband infrastructure, but he says that, currently, the biggest barrier to rural internet access is technology.

“There’s plenty of areas now that we would love to be able to service and do something, but unfortunately some of the equipment isn’t quite there yet,” Miller said.

Shortly after the decision, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a press release saying he will lead a multi-state lawsuit aimed at preventing the FCC’s decision from taking effect.