In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality. That repeal took effect on Monday, and while FCC chairman and novelty coffee mug enthusiast Ajit Pai celebrates the control his agency will now be able to exact over the the Internet economy, consumers have reason to be concerned. Here are three things to keep in mind as the Internet enters a strange new chapter.
1. What does the end of net neutrality mean?
In 2015, the Obama administration passed regulation preventing Internet service providers from restricting access to certain content, slowing or accelerating connection speeds or creating "fast lanes" for both companies and Internet users who pay a premium fee while hamstringing the connectivity of those who don't.
These regulations are now officially lifted, and service providers have carte blanche to strike deals with powerful Internet companies. A company like Amazon, for instance, could pay service providers to make their content stream faster, thus making it more appealing to consumers than its competitors. Any company looking to game the system is now able to do so, and those whose pockets aren't so deep are now at a marked disadvantage.
Concern has also arisen that service providers could begin to offer Internet packages that mirror how cable providers offer bundles of channels. Consumers could be forced to pay a fee for a social media package, a fee for streaming packages, etc. Though this is an extreme and probably unlikely example of what the repeal of net neutrality has enabled, the extent to which corporate service providers – and in turn the Internet's corporate monoliths – are now able to act as gatekeepers to the Internet is concerning.
2. What is the core argument in favor of the repeal?
FCC Chairman Pai's definition of freedom on the Internet differs dramatically from that of those advocating for net neutrality. Pai named the order repealing net neutrality the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, and on Monday he began an op-ed for CNET by claiming that he "support[s] a free and open Internet." He echoed his point on Fox News.
The issue lies in for whom the Internet is "free and open." For Pai, it's service providers and powerhouse Internet companies like Netflix and Facebook. For proponents of net neutrality, it's the nearly 300 million American Internet users and companies whose success hinges on a level playing field, not who is able to pay off service providers for preferential treatment.
In his op-ed for CNET, Pai touted that the Federal Trade Commission will now be able to "police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices," which wouldn't be necessary to the extent that it is now if the repeal of net neutrality didn't enable service providers to engage in a host of such acts and practices. Pai concluded his op-ed by noting that after the Obama administration enacted net neutrality, "network investment fell by billions of dollars – the first time that had happened outside of a recession in the broadband era." In other words, the FCC views the Internet as a purely capitalist enterprise, not as an indispensable utility to which all companies and consumers deserve to have equal access.
3. What is being done to combat the repeal?
In short, a lot. In May, the Senate voted to reinstate net neutrality despite being controlled by Republicans. It's now on the House of Representatives to vote similarly, but this is unlikely considering the number of Republicans who would need to flip. Though the bill hasn't been able to move through the House, the Senate's show of bipartisan support for net neutrality is encouraging, and lawmakers are continuing to fight the repeal even as it has taken effect.
#NetNeutrality protections end today because House Republicans refused to act. Congress still has the power to restore a free and open Internet for all.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 11, 2018
I signed the discharge petition to force a vote. Call your Representative and ask them to do the same: 202-224-3121.
With federal legislation stalled, some states are taking the issue into their own hands. As The Verge notes, Washington, California and Oregon have all passed bill reinstating net neutrality to varying degrees. Six governors have passed executive orders banning service providers from operating within their state unless they abide by the net neutrality rules enacted by the Obama administration in 2015. In total, 65 bills have been introduced across 29 states aimed at mitigating the impact of the repeal since its passage last December. The legality of some of this legislation may be questionable but, again, it's a testament to the positive momentum building to reinstate net neutrality. As Rep. Adm Schiff suggested in his tweet Monday morning, it doesn't hurt to dial up your representative and give them a nudge.