The phrase "net neutrality" has been popping up in the headlines a lot lately, as the debate about what makes a fair Internet service model is once again under FCC consideration.
While much of the debate has been between Internet Service Providers, and major online companies, those who rely on the world wide web have been caught in the crossfire.
On UMD's campus, students say they're online almost constantly. That's partly because, students can use it freely, whether they're working on homework or streaming Netflix.
Computer Science professor Peter Peterson explains that's due to a law restricting Internet Service Providers from increasing or decreasing web speeds based on their priorities.
Currently, that's providing for a "neutral Internet" but the FCC is revisiting the policy in the name of deregulation.
Instead of the current neutral state of the Internet, the FCC could allow ISPs to change to a model that he compares to airlines charging more for first class, while most pay for coach.
"People would argue well maybe it would make general Internet service cheaper, but you only pay more when you want to stream Netflix or play games and have them be fast or things like that," he said.
He said the issue arises when an ISP charges more for something consumers are used to getting for one price, and unlike an airline, many consumers can't take their business somewhere else.
"Maybe you can get wireless or satellite Internet, but it's often got some drawback to it, so people don't necessarily have the choice to be able to say 'I'm not gonna have X company, I'm gonna switch to this other ISP,'" he said.
It's a special concern for educational institutions, because he says slowing down or restricting access to online content could also mean slowing down or restricting access to information.
"For research and education in a philosophical sense, we want access to information to be neutral. We don't want to be slowed down or make it harder to answer certain questions or to do things like that," he said.
He said there's no telling what parts of the web might require that "first class access," because there's not really an Internet model to compare it to.
That means, whether it's educational tools, or something for on-campus student life, universities and schools increasingly using tech tools may need to rework their budgets to see if "first class Internet" is worth the potential price tag.
The FCC is voting on the issue of net neutrality in mid-December, and currently, the board is leaning towards repealing the policy.