The FCC Repeal Of Net Neutrality
After much debate and speculation, the FCC has finally gone ahead with the repeal of Net Neutrality. Then President Barack Obama established rules for equality of traffic on the internet back in 2015. Under the rules, internet service providers had to treat all traffic as equal. They could not block websites, services, or throttle or slow down access to internet services.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal Net Neutrality. The vote went along party lines, with 3 Republicans versus 2 Democrats.
According to the New York Times, the repeal eliminated the limitations of Net Neutrality. In particular, the repeal overthrew the following important facets of the law:
- BLOCKING – in the past, internet service providers were not able to block an app or website as long as the service was operating legally
- THROTTLING – internet service providers could not slow down the data transmission rates for services or content based on the nature of the content
- PAID PRIORITIZATION – the idea of an internet fast-lane for services willing to pay a premium to avoid a slow-lane
In other words, net neutrality is effectively dead and now we are under a new reality.
Why The FCC’s Net Neutrality Elimination Has Touched Off A Storm
Under its current head, Ajit Pai, the FCC has come under fire for cozying up to the industry it is supposed to regulate. Just 24 hours after the repeal, a petition calling for Pai to resign from the FCC had already garnered 100,000 signatures.
The petition seethes in anger at the Net Neutrality repeal, saying,
“We are requesting the resignation of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, for ignoring millions of complaints about removing Net Neutrality and for impeding freedom of speech on the internet.”
A poignant part of the petition alleges possible conflicts of interest behind the decision, saying,
“By repealing net neutrality, FCC Chairman Aji Pai has also ignored millions of complaints—Republican, Democrat, or otherwise—to give his former employer Verizon and other major internet service providers the right to close off access to information on the World Wide Web.”
Net Neutrality Elimination Could Transform The Business Landscape
In Silicon Valley and beyond, businesses have come out against the repeal. A list of companies that have campaigned against the repeal of Net Neutrality reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley internet companies, including:
- the American Civil Liberties Union
Following the repeal, the official Netflix account tweeted,
“We’re disappointed in the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle.”
While these large companies have protested the FCC’s move, there are fears smaller companies will face the biggest challenges. It seems likely that getting content or services to users could become more expensive for startups and small businesses.
Freedom Of Speech, The First Amendment And American Leadership
Moreover, there are questions about how the end of net neutrality will affect freedom of speech on the internet. If a big ISP can throttle or block a website, that limits the website’s ability to communicate its position to its users.
As a result, the repeal has opened a can of worms around the First Amendment’s applicability on the net.
Furthermore, Net Neutrality is the subject of a debate that impacts America’s perception and leadership around the globe. What has distinguished America, in comparison to other countries, is the relatively free nature of internet self-expression.
Especially relevant, countries like China and others in Asia routinely censor the internet. Consequently, they never had Net Neutrality. Chinese censorship of the internet, for example, has seen limitations or blackouts placed on websites such as Youtube.
The United States could hold up its own Net Neutrality laws as a model of global leadership on the issue of online freedom of expression. With the elimination of Net Neutrality, the possibility of censorship, whether by ISPs or other players, is much closer.
“This will be another instance of the U.S. ceding leadership in a global area,” according to Nick Frisch of Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.
Will Broadband Companies Abuse Their Position
Furthermore, Bloomberg has noted that the ISP Market is notably less than competitive. ISPs now face the prospect of using the repeal to their advantage.
As a result, the effect will be felt by the user. Whether, as some fear, this will result in the concentration and monopolization of online media remains to be seen.
For businesses, the changes are no less significant. Commercial entities are now able to block internet services simply for commercial reasons. This has big implications for the market.
Experts have noted, for example, that an internet service provider like Verizon can block access to a video streaming website like Youtube. It can then turn around and promote its own video service to its users. If users do not have the option of quickly switching to another ISP, they may have no option than to stop using Youtube.
This is just one example of many possible scenarios.
The Arguments Of Those In Favor Of The Net Neutrality Repeal
The nightmare scenarios painted by Net Neutrality advocates are frankly alarming. On the other side, proponents of the Net Neutrality repeal have argued that nothing of the sort will occur.
According to this view, the repeal paves the way for ISPs to reap the fair reward for their investment in the network infra-structure which powers the internet. If they decide that consumers or companies should pay more to deliver or access certain websites, so be it.
In turn, that paves the way for the companies to use their new profits to re-invest in much-needed new innovations. According to this view, therefore, Net Neutrality legislation was holding back a raft of new innovations.
As a result, service providers could not raise prices of certain internet services in order to develop new infra-structure. Now that Net Neutrality is no more, we are likely to see new developments that improve service around the country.
President Trump’s policy positions are in line with his appointed FCC head Ajit Pai dismantling Net Neutrality. Trump campaigned on the premise that stringent regulations were slowing down innovation and holding back the economy. Hence, the repeal of Net Neutrality could be just another move at pulling down what he sees as excessive regulation.
Net Neutrality, however, is a curious choice for this battle because, according to polls, it was a highly popular piece of legislation.
A New Dark Age Or The Promised Land
For the immediate future, what impact there will be from the Net Neutrality repeal will be limited. The new rules do not go in force immediately. Companies like Facebook and Google, if they see the need, could build their own internet service provider offerings. Google, with its Google Fiber, was already in the process of doing just this.
Beyond that, there are multiple related lawsuits that make the long term future of Net Neutrality difficult to predict. As a result, Net Neutrality remains a bruising fight that is likely to polarize American society for years to come.