In 2015, the administration of former US President Barack Obama put into effect a set of regulations that compelled internet service providers to treat all online content equally in terms of access and consumer traffic. This was the concept of “net neutrality” which prevented the ISPs from dangling the carrot of “fast-lane” access to content providers for extra charges, as well as prohibiting the same from slowing down net speed for providers that are perceived to be competition by the ISPs. Telecom companies have long been trying to see these net neutrality regulations struck down, and on Thursday the Federal Communications Commission obliged.
USA Today reports that this December 14, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality a mere two years after it was enacted. The decision was reached over the virulent protests of certain internet companies and consumer groups, who felt that killing off the regulations was tantamount to pandering telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who hailed the FCC vote in their favor as a great victory instead. In place of the Obama administration-era rules are a set of new guidelines that was passed by the Commission, which was strongly pro-Republican, by a narrow vote of 3-2.
Now that ISPs are not, in their view, “hobbled” by the even playing field enforced by the old neutrality restrictions, they have full control on how much traffic certain content providers get. That’s the theory; but the new replacement regulations by the FCC also require the ISPs to always disclose publicly every instance that they will restrict or speed up any content using their services, whether their own or provided by partners. The removal of the old neutrality guidelines and their new replacements need only to be published in the Federal Register in order to take full effect.
Of course, just because a decision has been made and action has been taken, doesn’t mean the story has ended. In the eyes of the opposing factions who lobbied to protect net neutrality, the battle has only just begun. And their next recourse to make their voice heard will be in the Courts which will be reviewing the new regulations. Meanwhile, opponents of the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order in Congress remark that they are moving to have the whole thing overturned by planning to introduce Congressional Review Act legislation.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed in January by President Donald Trump, believes that the fears tied to net neutrality are overblown. He says that ending neutrality “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. We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”
Photo courtesy of cnet.com