Is Net Neutrality Dying A Slow Death?
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all content flowing through cables and cell towers equally. This implies that they shouldn’t be able to slide some data into “fast lanes” while blocking or discriminating against other material. In other words, the companies shouldn’t be able to block you from accessing a service like Skype or slow down Netflix or Hulu, YouTube to encourage you to keep your cable package or buy a different video-streaming service.
Today internet is used to browse websites like Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, etc., without being charged extra for the access. While you might pay for a subscription to the website content, the bandwidth that brings it to your computer is included in fees you pay to your ISP. This could all change if the FCC votes to eliminate net neutrality or significantly changes the current open, unregulated nature of internet access later this year.
The Federal Communications Commission which is an independent agency of the united states government regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable has spent years, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, trying to enforce net neutrality protections. After a series of legal defeats, the FCC passed a sweeping net neutrality order in 2015 but in December 2017, the now Republican- controlled FCC voted to discharge that order, freeing broadband providers to block or throttle content as they see fit. In January 2017, President Trump appointed Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai as the agency’s new chair. In April, he announced a plan to reverse the 2015 net neutrality order. The December 2017 FCC vote effectively threw out the 2015 rules in their entirety. Landmark US “net neutrality” rules will expire on June 11, and new regulations handing providers broad new power over how consumers can access the internet will take effect.
The future of net neutrality is now in the hands of Congress and the courts. Several states are also taking up the fight for net neutrality. Washington state became the first to pass net neutrality law in March, and Oregon followed soon after. Governors of Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont have passed executive orders banning state agencies from doing business with broadband providers that don’t uphold the principles of net neutrality.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering at least two proposals related to net neutrality. One proposal, backed mostly by Democrats, would overturn the FCC’s 2017 decision, thereby leaving the 2015 rules in place. The other, proposed by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), would ban broadband providers from blocking lawful content, but wouldn’t explicitly ban fast lanes, meaning that it falls short of mandating true net neutrality. It would also severely limit both the states’ and the FCC’s authority to regulate internet providers in the future, making it harder to enforce stricter net neutrality rules.
In the meantime, you can expect broadband providers to slowly take advantage of their new freedom. They probably won’t take big overt steps to slow down or block competing services, especially not while courts are still deliberating the FCC’s latest decision. But you can expect to see more of the practices that carriers already employ, like letting their own content bypass data limits. Elimination of net neutrality could be a massive hit to internet users and businesses across this country.