U.S. News

FCC votes against neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission held an open agenda meeting on December 14 where it voted to end net neutrality protections by passing the Restoring Internet Freedom order.

This change will remove the FCC’s responsibility as a regulatory body of internet providers and move the responsibility of preventing anti-competitive behavior to the Federal Trade Commision. The vote was 3-2 in favor of the change, with Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting against, and with Republicans Brendan Carr, Michael O’Rielly, and Chairman Ajit Pai voting in favor.

Columbia University Professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality” as the principle that the broadband industry must treat all data equally and not discriminate against network traffic based on its contents. Historically, the FCC upheld this principle of a neutral internet by preventing broadband companies from throttling or blocking certain streams of data from being accessed by the public. An example of this is when Comcast secretly slowed upload speeds of peer-to-peer sharing services like BitTorrent, causing the FCC to order it to stop in 2007.

This move to relieve the FCC of its duties as regulator of internet service providers has met the resistance of both Democratic FCC commissioners, 39 United States senators, and 127 members of Congress, and has garnered the response of over 22 million Americans.

Clyburn stated in her initial dissenting opinion, “I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling ‘Destroying Internet Freedom Order.’” She went on to say, “There is a basic fallacy underlying the majority’s actions and rhetoric today: the assumption of what is best for broadband providers, is best for America.”

A committee of senators addressed Pai in a letter directly, imploring him “to abandon [his] reckless plan to radically alter the free and open internet as we know it,” stating that the change would “permit [internet service providers] to freely block, slow down or manipulate a consumer’s access to the internet as long as it discloses those practices.”

The sheer number of public comments in regard to this change in policy was so large that the FCC was obligated to extend the comment period by two weeks just to accommodate them.

Pai claims in his dissenting opinion of the 2014 Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet order that the FCC’s current role as a regulatory body is detrimental to the freedoms of the internet by stifling “end-user control; competitive effects; consumer protection; effect on innovation, investment, or broadband deployment; free expression; application agnostic; and standard practices.” His main issues with the 2014 regulations were that they discouraged investments, forced federal and state regulation of the internet preventing a competitive free market from existing, and inhibited business innovation with overbearing reporting and restrictions.

According to Clyburn, this change could be implicitly devastating: “Many have asked, what happens next? How will all of this—net neutrality, my internet experience, look after today? My answer is simple. When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider’s toothy grin and those oh-so comforting words: we have every incentive to do the right thing. What they will soon have, is every incentive to do their own thing.”

She then lays out some newfound powers that internet service providers might have without these regulations. “Maybe several providers will quietly roll out paid prioritization packages that enable deep-pocketed players to cut the queue. Maybe a vertically-integrated broadband provider decides that it will favor its own apps and services or some high-value internet-of-things traffic will be subject to an additional fee.”

Both Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (poly.rpi.edu/s/3nuy3) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (poly.rpi.edu/s/k3oa1) have already announced their intentions to challenge the end of net neutrality rules through lawsuits, citing the FCC’s failure to acknowledge millions of fake comments submitted in support of the changes (poly.rpi.edu/s/wsqkj). These orders are not set to take place until they are entered into the federal register, which will most likely be sometime next year.