What end of net neutrality means in Iowa

The Federal Communications Commission?s repeal of net neutrality rules is being met with a mix of approval from local internet providers and concern from at least one former FCC member.

Officials with Mediacom and ImOn Communications said the repeal of net neutrality rules ? originally adopted in 2015 to ban the blocking or slowing of web content by internet service providers ? will not have a negative impact on local services.

?If we want to be known as a broadband leader with the fastest speeds ..., it is entirely counter to that notion if we were to block or throttle or obstruct the traffic,? said Phyllis Peters, Mediacom communications director.

?Mediacom has always followed the principles of net neutrality, and we have no plans to change,? she said. ?The internet industry, the kinds of innovations and tech that occurred up through 2015 ? when the rules were changed ? show no evidence there was any problem or that the internet was stifled.?

Patrice Carroll, president and chief executive officers of ImOn Communications, said competition will help maintain prices and service levels.

?We strongly support a lighter touch, or minimal regulation,? Carroll said. ?Really, there is enough competition that market forces are going to be the best way of us to field investment.?

Supporters of net neutrality, including Iowa City?s Nicholas Johnson, who served on the FCC for seven years and was an adviser to the Carter White House, argue that relaxed regulations will allow service providers to sell varying levels of service to different customers ? based on different prices.

Johnson likened the market without net neutrality to a post office that ? before mailing a letter ? asks to read the letter and see where it?s being sent. Or a telephone company that says calls to certain places require a 10-minute wait while allowing other calls instantly.

?This is not like grocery stores, where if you don?t like Fareway you can go to Hy-Vee, and they have competitive prices and comparative goods,? Johnson said, comparing today?s internet instead to railroads or telephone services. ?That?s what the internet is today. It?s an essential service. It needs to serve all people equally.?

Johnson argued that competition without regulations will have detrimental effects.

?If you?re in business, it is your business to maximize profits for the shareholders,? he said. ?That?s what capitalism is all about. That?s what makes it great, and that?s what makes it evil.?

Expanding high-speed broadband into rural areas has been a priority of both Republicans and Democrats in Iowa because of its increasing importance in precision agriculture, distance learning and telemedicine. An FCC report in 2016 found that 37 percent of rural Iowans were without access to high-speed broadband, while just 4 percent of urban residents were.

ImOn?s Carroll said the company?s customer base currently is within metropolitan areas and that connecting to smaller, more rural markets is an ongoing discussion. But lighter FCC regulations or fees, she said, could expedite the growth.

?There is a concern that these burdens on regulatory requirements on this particular service, the internet service, would lessen our ability to invest in rural areas,? she said. ?It may have had an impact down the road on how quickly we could grow and expand our broadband service.?

The Gazette?s parent company, Folience, is among the investors in ImOn Communications.