The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote to put an end to their net neutrality rules next month, commission chairman Ajit Pai announced on Tuesday. The proposal will reverse the Title II classification of internet providers, which allows the agency to put strict limits on their behavior, and will replace it with the previous “information service” designation, which federal court has ruled as less comprehensive, weakening any protections that are currently in place.
Is this the end for Net Neutrality?
As a result, if the agency even wanted to replace those protections, there is a high possibility the proposal will leave the internet without any net neutrality protections. The full plan will be released on Wednesday, until then we have a summary from Pai.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
The FCC’s mission is to set up the Federal Trade Commission to handle all anti-competitive disputes, and the philosophy is that if the internet service providers violate their stated policies, the FTC will be tasked to take action against the ISP.
Ultimately, this could lead to a legitimate concern over legal consumer protections. Companies’ terms of service and related policies are not meant to protect consumers, they are intended to protect businesses, and they can change anytime. While it is possible that a company could violate their policies and get in trouble with the FTC, a company could also promise open internet protections until it no longer feels like it benefits the corporation, rewrites their rules, and then implement a new policy that discourages a public internet.
Moreover, if more American consumers had access to several ISP to receive their internet, then this would not be that much of a concern. However, less than a quarter of Americans has two or more internet providers that offer basic broadband speeds, so if you do not like what your ISP is doing, then you are s— out of luck.
That said, Republicans argue that the FTC is the expert agency on anti-competitive practices and should be in charge to make rulings base don those cases. But, the FTC is a single agency, which will be placed in charge of protecting consumers across a wide range of industries. It does not have the expertise of the FCC to narrow in on internet providers. Nor does the FTC have the ability to enact strict rules to safeguard the industry proactively. Ultimately, the FTC can only establish guidelines, which gives ISPs more flexibility to experiment with these practices that will benefit their business.
Ultimately, the FCC is trying and will most likely give internet providers what they want when it comes to benefit their business and what they want on their networks. Pai’s philosophy has been that by providing ISPs their flexibility, it allows them to make money in new and different ways, which could result in a reinvestment into their network. The theory that more money results in a trickling down of benefits to their consumers. Since the agency wants to get more Americans connected, this could be considered as a significant win for both ISPs and consumers.
The rules are set for a vote next month, on December 14th, when they are most likely going to pass. The FCC is majority GOP currently, and Republicans have been calling for the end of net neutrality since the policy was first enacted. There is also no reason for Pai to put forth a vote unless he knows it will most likely pass.
Following the vote, new policies will begin to appear in the Federal Register and go into place, overwriting the net neutrality rules. That means everything will be all over, though there are court battles to follow. Net Neutrality advocates will take their argument to court, claiming that it failed to find enough evidence to overturn a decision made just two years earlier. Proponents of net neutrality may also suggest commission ignored the evidence, having made the decision and disregarded the millions of comments from the American public in support of net neutrality.
Keep in mind, supporters of net neutrality have long argued that the rules are necessary to protect consumers from price gouging and protect small businesses from anti-competitive business practices. Moreover, paid fast lanes could allow wealthy companies to pay for better service, giving them an edge over start-up companies. A lack of discrimination rules could let internet providers like Comcast and AT&T have an advantage over their content over others’, by making it stream faster or not count towards their data caps. The absence of no blocking rules that inter providers could even block apps that compete with their core business by stopping them from reaching consumers.