It’s time that we bid farewell to net neutrality protections. As of Monday, the FCC’s decision to overturn the Obama-era protections goes into effect. Which means, Internet service providers (ISP’s) have the ability to block, throttle and even prioritize which websites you can and can’t go to. Maybe you can’t even read this. Which is all incredibly horrible because they’re blocking your right to access information. That said, it’s possible that we aren’t going to see the effects of these decisions immediately. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t going to be a massive change that will certainly alter the Internet as we know it.
These new rules are going to do a few things. To start, they are going to affect what content you see and the speed by which you can access said content. The new rules also shift oversight away from the FCC and move it over to the FTC. Under Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC classified broadband internet as a Title II service, putting it in line with utilities like telephone service and electricity. But this past December, the FCC switched broadband back to a Title I classification – giving the FTC some of the regulatory authority. The FCC previously had this authority over ISP’s, which meant they couldn’t get into the business of blocking, throttling or even paid prioritization. Ajit Pai, however, is saying that this previous arrangement was “heavy-handed”.
But how was that approach even “heavy-handed”? Pai suggests that this new approach will spur more investment and innovation. But there is also the possibility of a merger on the books, and if that goes through, the amount of options you’ll have is going to be limited. So how is this going to actually bring more innovation? Smaller ISP’s aren’t going to be able to compete with the big guys. Which along with my previous statement indicates that there will be fewer options for getting your internet. Thus, fewer opportunities for investment and innovation. Riddle me that one, Ajit Pai.
What’s interesting is that there are a ton of outspoken opponents of the FCC’s actions – including state governments, tech companies, rights groups and even attorneys. I mean, if the lawyers aren’t on your side, you must be doing something wrong. At least 29 states have introduced more than 65 bills that are aimed at protecting net neutrality. Seven states, including Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Vermont, have enacted executive orders that made it illegal for state agencies to enter contracts with ISP’s who don’t uphold the original net neutrality rules, to begin with.
In addition, Washington, Vermont, and Oregon have all passed net neutrality legislation of their own, and California is not far behind on this one. In addition, 22 states’ and Washington DC’s attorneys general have all failed lawsuits challenging this FCC decision. I am all for democracy, but there are a lot of people who are against these moves. Which makes me wonder where the FCC is getting their data in the first place?
There is a bill that has gone through the Senate and is on its way to the House, which will hopefully overturn these rules federally. But, even if they don’t get overturned, this is certainly putting politicians in a precarious position. If they want to get re-elected they will need to show support for an end to net neutrality. That said, the next administration in 2020 (I’m being hopeful) could return the rules back to what they were, but a more permanent decision still remains with Congress. This whole thing has become political and, well, kind of a joke, if you ask me. It feels like administrations are just going to overturn other administration’s decisions and every 2-4 years things are going to flip-flop in terms of the rules.