The FCC kills net neutrality

By:
Natalie Bannerman
Published on:

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote across party lines

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal to the Obama-era net neutrality rules.

In a 3-2 vote across party lines, the FCC lead by its chairman Ajit Pai voted yesterday to revoke the rules that safe guards a free and open-internet.

In a statement, Pai explains the decision to repeal net neutrality rules saying: “What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the Internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation. Quite to the contrary.” According to Pai, it was President Clinton and the Republican Congress’s decision to adopt a “light-touch” approach to the internet, which resulted in its progress, one that was “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” During 1996 – 2015 he says a staggering $1.5 trillion dollars was invested into the internet. 

But in 2015, Pai says the government got it wrong. He says the Obama administration “jettisoned this successful, bipartisan approach to the Internet” subjecting the internet to “utility-style regulation designed in the 1930s to govern Ma Bell.” As a result, Pai says “investment in high-speed networks has declined by billions of dollars. Notably, this is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era” at a rate of 5.6%. 

He adds that “there was no problem to solve. The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015” and that the main complaints from consumers is “that they don’t have access at all or [there isn’t] enough competition.” 

The biggest concern over the legislation is that a roll-back, which presently stops providers from block legal content, throttling lawful traffic or prioritising paid for content (fast lanes), could have a negatively affect OTT (over the top) diversity and potentially lead the way for internet service providers to start charging users. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix have also argued that telecom companies may well start prioritising their own streaming video services or interfere with messaging apps like Skype or WhatsApp.

The backlash as a result of the news has been dramatic to say the least. Netflix were one of the first companies to condemn the decision saying:

Twitter followed suit calling the reform a “blow to innovation and free expression”.

Werner Vogels, chief operating officer also took to Twitter to voice his disappointment, though no official statement from the company has surfaced yet.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook took to her personal Facebook page to express her disapproval of the decision.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit used his response to the net neutrality vote as a call to action, tweeting an image of the what the future of the internet in the US could look like.

As consumers and content providers alike are upset over the decision, many states in the US are choosing to fight back. Within minutes if the decision being announced, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he would be leading a multi-state lawsuit against the FCC stating that “We will be filing a claim to preserve protections for New Yorkers and all Americans. And we’ll be working aggressively to stop the FCC’s leadership from doing any further damage to the internet and to our economy.” Adding that “the FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving Internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers.

So far Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson, Oregon state attorney general Ellen Rosenblum, Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan, Iowa attorney general Tom Miller, Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey and Scott Wiener, a California state senator are all said to be following suit.  

It comes as no surprise that while the one faction of the internet community are outraged, the other is applauding the decision.  

AT&T were one of the first Internet Service Providers to speak out. In a blog post Bob Quinn, Senior Executive Vice President of External & Legislative Affairs at AT&T said: “We do not block websites, nor censor online content, nor throttle or degrade traffic based on the content, nor unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic. These principles, which were laid out in the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order and fully supported by AT&T, are clearly articulated on our website and are fully enforceable against us. In short, the internet will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.“  

Verizon responded in an email statement to CNN. "Verizon fully supports the open Internet, and we will continue to do so. Our customers demand it and our business depends on it, “said Will Johnson, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Verizon. 

Comcast one the biggest ISP players in the US has remained remarkably silent on the matter, with only a dedicated page on its website to net neutrality with three simple lines that reads: 

Comcast is committed to an Open Internet. 

  • We do not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful content. 
  • We believe in full transparency in our customer policies. 
  • We are for sustainable and legally enforceable net neutrality protections for our customers. 
Charter Communications, which has openly backed the repeal of net neutrality in the past. In a blog post “Our objection to Title II (of the 1934 Communications Act) has never been about not wanting to provide our customers with an open internet,” Charter officials said in a blog post Thursday. “Rather we have been concerned about its overly broad and vague prohibitions as well as the potential for rate regulation. By bringing its approach into the 21st century, the FCC is helping provide regulatory predictability so companies like Charter can be confident in making even greater investments in our broadband networks.” 

But as Internet Association and many consumers on the likes of Twitter and Facebook are asking:

As the repeal by the FCC is being pushed for Congress to intervene, it’s fair to say the decision is fair from final. Over the coming weeks commentators on both sides will have a lot to say, but Pai still maintains that the FCC will be there to safe guard our internet.  

“As we move forward both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission will continue to be vigorous cops on the beat. Making sure that internet service providers and others in the internet economy do the right thing by the public interest.”