FCC Rescinds Obama-era Net Neutrality Rules
The Federal Communications Commission has voted to dismantle the rules that require internet providers to give consumers equal access to all content online. New regulations were passed by the Republican-controlled agency by a 3-2 vote. The replacement rules are slated to go into effect as soon as next month.
The original rules were put into place under the Obama Administration and went into effect in 2015. Under those regulations, broadband service was considered a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. The rules required internet service providers to offer equal access without giving preferential treatment to certain websites or charging consumers for higher-quality delivery. Internet service providers also could not discriminate against any lawful content by blocking websites or apps.
The agency’s chairman, Ajit Pai, has long opposed the regulations, previously saying that they were based on “hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom.” Most American homes and smartphones connect to the internet through a handful of broadband companies, including AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon. The FCC chairman pointed out that none of the service providers had engaged in any of the practices prohibited by the rules even before they took effect in 2015.
The new regulations now require companies to disclose if they block sites or give priority to their own content more than others. The public must report the provider to the Federal Trade Commission if it looks like the provider is playing favorites or trying to suppress a competitor. Several internet providers have made public pledges that they will not block or throttle sites once the rules were repealed.
Many consumer advocates have argued that the rules prevented broadband providers from selling the internet under a bundling system that would charge some customers and companies more than others. How ISPs operate in other countries may give us a clue of what Americans are now in for. In Portugal and England, providers offer monthly services with extra fees for social, messaging, and video viewing.
Some small business owners have said the decision could leave them on an unfair playing field. Without rules prohibiting paid prioritization, the broadband providers could create a fast lane occupied by big internet companies, media companies, and affluent households, while everyone else would receive slower access. Freelancers could also face higher costs to do their jobs from home.