The Federal Communication Commission voted today to overturn net neutrality rules, despite significant public outcry and disapproval from many senators.
Net Neutrality Rules Overturned
The two-year-old set of net neutrality rules intended to protect consumers from bad behavior from internet service providers (ISPs) was passed during the Obama administration, and corporations have been lobbying for years in hopes of overturning the regulations.
While the overturning of net neutrality rules is a good thing for corporations, allowing them to prioritize certain internet traffic and charge extra fees to access certain content, it’s widely regarded as a harmful move for the wellbeing of consumers.
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The rules that went into effect back in 2015 prevented these ISPs from blocking or throttling content, and the repeal is seen as a big win for corporations like AT&T, Comcast, Charter, and Verizon. Despite assurances from these companies that they would continue to provide a quality service to customers, many citizens and legislators are skeptical and untrusting of these companies that have a track record of shady behavior.
The new regulations were passed by a Republican-controlled commission with a 3-2 vote.The repeal of net neutrality rules was replaced with a regulation requiring ISPs to disclose whether they are blocking or prioritizing their own content, but this is no replacement for the protections previously in place. These new adjustments will officially take effect after they are published in the Federal Register.
The Fight is Not Over
Proponents of the effectiveness and importance of net neutrality rules are far from done with the fight to protect a free and open web. With current moves to combat these new questionable resolutions in Congress and in the courts, it’s possible that we’ll never see these potentially harmful adjustments come to light. Some members of Congress have mentioned introducing a Congressional Review Act that will overturn the measure. However, in an environment with a Republican majority, it’s not a guarantee that a government intervention will give activists the win that they’re looking for. Previous attempt to get rid of net neutrality rules ended up in court, and it’s very likely that the recently passed regulations will be challenged in a similar fashion.
USA Today reports that FCC chairman Ajit Pai has stated that net neutrality qualifies as “heavy-handed micromanagement” and “utility-style” regulations and that these replacement provisions do a better job for both consumers and business.
“is not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy and it’s not going to stifle free expression online,” he continued. “We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”
However, the idea of promoting competition between ISPs only applies if there’s actual competition. In many areas, companies like AT&T and Comcast have a near monopoly on high-speed connections. When customers are left without a choice, they rely on agencies like the FCC to pass regulations that are in their best interests. The FCC regulations have been criticized by many as a move intended to benefit only corporations while raising prices and threatening free access for the end consumer.
After Ajit Pai was appointed as FCC Chairman back in January, he put into action a plan to repeal net neutrality rules — regulations that he initially voted against as a commissioner back in February of 2015. He has supported lighter regulations on big businesses, requiring ISPs to disclose questionable activity like blocking or prioritization rather than outright banning it.
Restoring Internet Freedom Order
The new regulations that replace net neutrality rules, titled the Restoring Internet Freedom order, requires ISPs to report when they prioritize content. It also eliminates a standard that was intended to prevent ISPs from interfering with customers’ access to destinations online.
Net neutrality advocates organized an online protest this week, and the FCC commissioners were met with protesters outside the agency building before the meeting in which the rules were repealed.
With a 3-2 vote to repeal net neutrality rules, it’s clear that even within the FCC there’s a difference of opinion. Commissioner Mignon Clybum said that “The public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet … over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.” Fellow Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel strongly opposed the repeal. She also commented on the danger of the repeal, stating that “If the arc of history is long, we are going to bend this toward a more just outcome. In the courts. In Congress. Wherever we need to go to ensure that net neutrality stays the law of the land.”
Although ISPs have stated that there are currently no plans for throttling or blocking content, the fact that they were pushing so hard for a repeal brings into question the truthfulness of their assurances. A statement from Charter Communications, a major ISP serving over 22 million homes, read “We don’t slow down, block, or discriminate against lawful content…Simply put, we don’t interfere with the lawful online practices of our customers and we have no plans to change our practices.” Cox Communications also chimed in, saying that the repeal of net neutrality rules “returns a level of certainty for consumer protections and future investment and innovation that spur the growth of the Internet.”
Despite multiple companies stating that these repeals will lead to innovation and further benefits for the consumer, many ISPs have no incentive to innovate. As the only provider for many homes in their area, the repeal of net neutrality rules will likely only serve to increase their profits as they slowly but surely raise prices for Americans. Cooperation between ISPs rather than competition has led to areas of the country with only one real choice, and that monopoly without the protections of net neutrality rules sets the country down a precarious path. At the hands of corporations with a track record of looking after their best interests ahead of providing quality service, the internet could very well be much more limited and expensive in the near future.
While the repeal of net neutrality rules will likely remain in the courts for quite some time, many feel that the FCC no longer has the country’s best interest at heart. As a country with a government that is increasingly influenced by corporate interests, the best citizens can do is continue to protest and elect officials that will better represent them during the 2018 midterms.