The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under chairman Ajit Pai has followed through on its threat to kill net neutrality. In a 3-2 vote today, the commission approved a proposal to nullify the net neutrality rules put in place by the FCC in 2015. This move frees up internet service providers like Comcast and Time Warner to manage their networks more aggressively and create preferred fast lanes for content. The vote also makes it that much harder to apply any regulatory pressure to ISPs, as it removes the Title II classification that served as the basis of the net neutrality regulations.
Ajit Pai, in his defense of the proposal, echoed the statements made by former FCC chairman Powell. He built a straw man of net neutrality, then tore it down as justification for the repeal. There was a brief delay before the vote as security evacuated the room and appeared to sweep the room with a bomb-sniffing dog. After reconvening, the vote came down along party lines. The three Republican members of the commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations and the two Democrats voted to keep them in place.
Opponents of the change have argued that allowing ISPs a free hand will result in higher costs for consumers and businesses. Pai and his supporters claim that regulations on ISPs will hamper innovation in the future, and the internet was working fine before the 2015 rules. This argument didn’t resonate with consumers, the overwhelming majority of whom oppose the repeal when surveyed.
So, what happens now? The new rules are basically no rules. Actions like blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization that were not allowed under the previous net neutrality rules will now be permitted by the FCC. We’re basically trusting ISPs to handle things without oversight. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can still investigate ISPs for anti-competitive practices, but there’s a lot of gray area there.
It’s likely a lawsuit will be filed against the FCC in the coming days. While the commission is allowed to change rules and regulations, it’s not permitted to do so for purely political or arbitrary reasons. In court, the FCC will be forced to justify that the 2015 rules were causing harm to the internet. The large volume of fake public comments filed with the FCC will likely be a focus of the lawsuit as well.
The courts could halt the repeal of net neutrality rules, but it could be months before the new regulations are finalized. ISPs are probably already making plans to implement new, non-neutral services in the event the FCC wins the court cases. Either way, there won’t be any changes overnight.
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