RESEARCH

Network Neutrality Impact Study

MSU’s Quello Center launched this study on 26 February 2015, following the FCC’s decision to support Net Neutrality regulations. The study is designed to empirically determine the impact of net neutrality regulation. Despite much controversy surrounding this issue and the support for net neutrality regulations at the FCC, and in the White House, including legal challenges, the FCC’s decision is likely to move from theoretical speculation to empirical realities: What will be the actual impact of net neutrality regulation? The Quello Center is leading a collaborative project across departments and colleges at MSU to develop an creative approach to discovering and validating this impact through longitudinal and related complementary research, including cross-national comparative studies.

The net neutrality debate has galvanized a wide variety of stakeholders in opposing camps around the wisdom of this regulation on the future of a global, open and secure Internet. Proponents argue that net neutrality will keep the Internet open and in line with its early vision by not advantaging those who can pay for fast lanes. Opponents have raised numerous concerns about the role regulation could play in constraining efficiency, competition, investment, and innovation of the Internet and patterns of its use by individuals, households, business and industry. It has moved from a politically and commercially contentious issue to a legal-regulatory controversy that has become increasingly partisan and commensurately over simplified around competing positions.

However, supporters and opponents alike believe the implications will be of major importance to the future of the Internet in the US, but also globally, as other nations might well be influenced by policy and regulatory shifts in the United States. Others see this regulation as more symbolic, in that it is not a real change, and unlikely to have real impacts on the business and industry or use of the Internet. It is therefore important that these countervailing claims about the value and risk of net neutrality become a focus of independent empirical research.

The key assumption underpinning the Quello Center’s project is that the FCC’s decision on net neutrality presents an opportunity for a longitudinal quasi-experiment – one that will provide evidence on the actual role that net neutrality will play for actors across the Internet and telecommunication industries, but also users and consumers of Internet services. However, the project will not hinge on any single approach, but use multiple methods, centered on the core longitudinal study of trends shaped by the introduction of network neutrality rules and regulation. The research team will:

Academic research needs to be analytically skeptical and seek to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions on both sides of the debate by bringing analytical approaches and empirical research to bear on the question. The Quello Center is well positioned to conduct this research. It was established by an endowment in honor of former FCC Commissioner, James H. Quello, to study media and information policy in a neutral and dispassionate way. The Center’s endowment provides the independence and wherewithal to launch this project with an eye towards expansion of the project if justified by sponsorship and other sources of funding, such as foundations concerned with the social and economic futures of the Internet.

The project will be led by Professor Bill Dutton, Director of the Quello Center, who was founding Director of the Oxford Internet Institute and Professor of Internet Studies at the University of Oxford, before coming to MSU as the Quello Professor of Media and Information. Other MSU and Quello faculty involved in this project include:

Staff of the Quello Center, including Mitchell Shapiro, a Quello Specialist, and an Assistant Research Professor for whom a new search is underway, will be committed to this project. In addition, the Center will foster and organize collaborations with faculty and practitioners with an interest in supporting and joining this research initiative.

We are also assembling an Advisory Committee to help steer the project, including Steve Wildman, Professor Emeritus of Media and Information at MSU, and Chief Economist for the FCC in 2013.

The Quello Center welcomes expressions of support and offers of collaboration or sponsorship on what is an important albeit complex and challenging issue for policy research. If you wish to comment on, or support this research initiative, please contact Bill Dutton, or any of the faculty associates.

Contact: Professor Dutton at Quello@msu.edu