As expected, last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal so-called “net neutrality,” the principle that all web traffic should be treated equally regardless of connections to the big players or ability to pay extra for favorable treatment. Despite opposition from consumer groups, the Republican-dominated commission voted 3-2 in favor of the measure.
The big telecommunications companies—Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, among others—had lobbied for the repeal of the 2015 regulation, arguing that the concept hurts investment and stifles innovation. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former general counsel for Verizon, said, “What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the Internet? Certainly it wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation. . . . The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015; we were not living in some digital dystopia.”
According to CNET: “Opponents of the rule change say it gives too much control to big broadband and wireless companies and would allow these players to act as gatekeepers to the Internet, deciding which services and websites consumers access and which they cannot.”
CBS News reported: “Thursday’s rule change also eliminates certain federal consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC’s approach, and largely transfers oversight of Internet service to another agency with relatively little experience in telecommunications policy, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).”
The problem, critics say, is that the two entities operate differently. The FCC is empowered to act before harm to consumers occurs, while the FTC can only act after the fact.
Although often cast as a partisan issue, a recent survey by the University of Maryland of 1,077 registered voters showed that 83% of Americans support keeping the existing rules. This includes 75% of Republicans surveyed, as well as 89% of Democrats and 86% of independents.
Those opposed to the rule change include consumer advocates, such Internet companies as Facebook and Google, smaller Internet companies like Etsy and Vimeo, non-profits such as the New York Public Library, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
CBS News asked Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, to explain the possible consequences of the new approach: “ . . . an [Internet Service Provider (ISP)] could demand that a service like Yelp pay $50,000 a month to reach its subscribers. That could lead to the creation of ‘fast lanes’ and ‘slow lanes,’ where companies [that] agree to pay that fee would be given preferred carriage, with its content delivered faster to the ISP’s customers. Smaller companies that don’t have the resources to pay up could be shunted into the ‘slow lane.’ ”
The Washington Post wrote: “ . . . providers would have the ability to set up traffic lanes and likely business incentive to do it. AT&T, which is trying to buy Time Warner, might want to give priority to streaming HBO. Already, it streams its DirecTV Now service to AT&T customers without counting [that service] toward their data caps.”
What does this mean to you? If ISPs charge companies extra fees for faster service, those fees will eventually be passed along to the consumer. In addition, certain websites could slow down, or be unavailable entirely. If you own a website, it means you could lose your Google search engine optimization (SEO) ranking, because Google gives slower sites a lower ranking.
So what’s next in the battle?
“We will fight the FCC’s decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said, vowing to introduce legislation to overturn the vote.
According to NPR, advocacy groups are expected to press Congress to stop the FCC’s vote from taking effect under the Congressional Review Act. In addition, the network reports that several consumer interest groups are planning to pursue a lawsuit challenging the decision. Finally, various state attorneys general are planning legal action to stop it.
A legal battle could drag on for months, if not years, analysts told The Post.
Billshark will continue to keep you up to date on this vital matter.