Telecommunications

FCC shoots down net neutrality: Welcome to the age of "internet freedom"

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has long had net neutrality regulations in his sights and the FCC he leads has now voted to overturn them
FCC chairman Ajit Pai has long had net neutrality regulations in his sights and the FCC he leads has now voted to overturn them
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FCC chairman Ajit Pai has long had net neutrality regulations in his sights and the FCC he leads has now voted to overturn them
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FCC chairman Ajit Pai has long had net neutrality regulations in his sights and the FCC he leads has now voted to overturn them

After a brief couple of years of Obama-era net neutrality rules, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now officially overturned the regulations that blocked internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling or prioritizing certain packets of information as they see fit.

In a vote that mirrored party lines, the "Restoring Internet Freedom" order was passed three to two by the Republican-controlled FCC. The new order largely removes significant regulation imposed in 2015 and ultimately allows ISPs the ability to block, throttle, or prioritize their services however they see fit, with the only caveat being they must reveal publicly when they do it.

Recently appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai has always been transparent about his disdain for the Obama-era regulations imposed on the internet economy, suggesting they were heavy-handed and stifled the free market. Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr called today, "a great day for consumers, for innovation, and freedom," after passing the new order.

In a bizarre "public service announcement" Pai even sarcastically addressed the millions of people concerned about the regulation repeal in a comically sarcastic video entitled "7 things you can still do on the internet after net neutrality." These things include binge watching, taking selfies and doing the Harlem Shake (although we're not sure anyone other than Pai is still doing that last one in 2017).

PSA from Chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai

But not everyone on the FCC commission was so enthusiastic, with the two dissenting Democrats making very firm public statements signaling that not only was this a terrible day for democratic freedoms, but that this is only the beginning of a long fight. In an expansive "eulogy of our 2015 net neutrality rules," Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn amusingly quoted Ajit Pai's own words back to him, recalling what he said back in 2015 following the initial instigation of the net neutrally rules:

"I am optimistic, that we will look back on today's vote as an aberration, a temporary deviation from the bipartisan path, that has served us so well. I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered."

Clyburn followed up her quote from Pai with a pointed, "Amen to that, Mr. Chairman. Amen to that."

So what happens now?

Not much immediately. The new rules won't be entered into the federal register and enacted until early next year. After that, expect a torrent of lawsuits to challenge these new rules, with everyone from private companies to individual state governments stepping up to fight.

Realistically, net neutrality has always been about potential futures instead of current realities. It's not like ISPs are sitting on the sidelines waiting to throttle traffic at the first opportunity. This is a long game, and it will fundamentally affect us all. As the internet becomes more and more pervasive and essential, these net neutrality regulations were about thinking ahead and getting on top of problems before they occur.

When Ajit Pai suggests that the internet has been fine for years without these unnecessary regulations he isn't wrong, but he is being disingenuous. Ten years ago we weren't streaming all our media or comprehensively connecting up every device in our home, and 10 years from now we'll be even more connected than we are now. It is then that the power of an ISP will be at its peak, and it is then that we will be looking back to today, wondering if maybe just a little bit of regulation could have been a good thing.

15 comments
phissith
You are not serious suggesting....
aki009
Cry me a river, Mr. Hardy. But that doesn't make your blatantly opinionated "article" any more accurate. Perhaps most telling was how you end with "maybe just a little bit of regulation could have been a good thing". Sure, A LITTLE BIT of regulation can often be a good thing, but "a little bit" does not come even close to describing the extent of Obama's "net neutrality". Did you ever even take the time to look at what was being done under the banner of "neutrality"?? How about spending a bit more time to listening and comprehending what Mr. Pai has said?
IvanWashington
get ready to start paying more.
Daishi
Part of the struggle up to this point is that technology gets a little cheaper every year but Internet traffic grows at a pace that outpaces those costs. If growth is 45 or 50% and cost per bit gets 20% cheaper per year to deliver traffic you still have an increasing budget to contend with. The growth of traffic on the Internet each year has been explosive to the extent that few other industries could have could grown to meet demands at this pace. Almost any other industry attempting to grow 50% year over year at roughly the same price would fall on its face. More and more people are streaming content over the top and 4k is 4 times as many pixels as 1080p so traffic growth isn't going away just yet but it could potentially level off some over the next 5 years. IF it does level off a bit that would be the first time since this Internet thing started that it has so that prediction is worth a grain of salt. We could simply find other reasons to consume data or shift more of it to mobile networks. A lot of the talk about blocking websites and ISP's saying "For an extra $5/month you can have Amazon!" is outright nonsense and fear mongering. If that actually happened it would already be illegal under existing laws anyway. The few actual examples that I have ever seen people give as to why this would be a good idea were also already dealt with under existing legal framework before the power of the FCC was greatly expanded through Net Neutrality. It was a fear mongering tactic for the FCC to grab increased power over mostly unregulated (read untaxed) ISP's and it worked. Insisting on regulating of the Internet is to insist on taxing it. The consumer doesn't win there because it only serves to further increase costs.
Anne Ominous
It's hardly nonsense. Most people don't realize that in fact, for most of the history of the Internet in the U.S., it has operated under some kind of neutrality rules. In fact, this may surprise you but in its early years it was solidly under Title II neutrality regulations (because it operated over the phone lines). And when other forms came around (like cable), there were other neutrality agreements they had to abide by. But after 15 years of constantly chipping away at those other regulations, by 2015 there was nothing left to ensure a neutral playing ground, but to fall back on Title II again. In the relative brief period when there were no neutrality regulations, we did indeed see lots of abuse. One ISP blocked traffic from some competing ISPs. Verizon created an artificial (read, "fake") infrastructure shortage so it double-dip and coerce Netflix to pay it money for bandwidth that had already been paid for by Verizon's customers. And so on. The list is long. Put those two things together: (A) that for most of Internet's existence it was under some form of neutrality rules, and (B) when it wasn't, we did see a lot of abuse, and you end up with (C) today's vote will likely turn out to be very, very bad news.
englishfil
Okay get this right - net neutrality IN THE USA - Ajit Pai does not rule the world. Perhaps one of the reasons the US cable companies were so keen to reverse the neutrality rules is that to not do so would require major investment on their part. In comparison to the rest of the civilized world US internet access infrastructure lags far behind. Often, outside of major cities, there is only one choice of supplier. Those monopoly carriers want the big users (Youtube etc.) to pay for the uplift (which sadly, and stupidly, they probably will) whilst the little guys get shut out or left in the slow lane. In countries with better infrastructure, and effective competiton amongst suppliers, and technolgy e.g. fibre vs. 4G, this would not wash - the user does not have to accept higher prices or a second rate service. Seems Ajit and his pals seem determined to hold America back for their own shortsighted ends.
ripshin
Daishi, Anne, and English all make good comments...even if they don't all agree. As English points out, many people have only a single broadband choice. (Although, unmentioned by him/her, is this is primarily due to the sheer physical size of the U.S. AND the fact that the U.S. has chosen not to organize itself as a centrally governed collective as our European brethren (for the most part) have. Meaning, it's doesn't even approach reality to think in terms of the federal government "creating" a countrywide internet infrastructure.) The fact that many, many, people don't have a choice implies that the concerns voiced by Anne will (if they haven't already) become real, in some sense or another. But, as Daishi alludes, the FCC's clumsy overreaching (THIS is the main point...they didn't have the authority...that HAS to come from Congress) attempt was not going to ensure the greatest freedom for the greatest number of people. It could be true that we'll eventually have to implement some type of rule to protect people who don't have a choice. (Similarly to public utilities.) But it could also be true that infrastructure evolves to the point where people do have real choices, and in that scenario, no abdication of additional authority to our bloated government will be necessary. What's true today, I believe, is this rule was not yet needed. Nortruly legal. And it was mostly about protecting one set of corporate interests at the expense of another...that is, it stifled freedom and would have prevented a truly organic evolution of this young market. rip
JGTinNJ
Has the writer of the article ever heard of the Federal Trade Commission? Does the writer know the difference between a dynamic creative economy and a static, parasitic one? Maybe some day the utility model might need to come in play, but not during a time of continual innovation and change.
chase
I think many of those posting in favor of ending Net Nueutrality regulations don't understand the true effect not remember what it was like prior to regulations being put in place. How many times was Comcast caught chocking or throttling isps to the point users abandoned even going to those sites? The whole point of "net neutrality" is simply have the net be treated as they do the phones. No preferential treatment. That's it in a nut shell. Everyone on the same fast lane. To say you don't like that idea of no preferential treatment, or that it stagnates business is bull pucky. There wouldn't be a Netflix today if it were not for net neutrality based regs having passed in 2010. The internet in order to remain free has to be regulated so the money hungry "F"'s of the planet don't stomp out competitors before they start. It also means that you and I can visit what ever content we want without some "F" chocking the hell out of the ISP to the point we lose interest because the page won't load. Or getting your usage throttled or chocked because they don't like your usage traits. The internet is going to suck big time once this takes hold. Just like it did before these regs were in place. As an avid user of the net. I remember all too well how bad it got for many. Well.. this ought to make the GOP real popular with the masses. Not!
aksdad
Welcome to the age of Internet freedom, in which not a single person who freaked out about the FCC deregulating the Internet (which is the way it was for 25 years) will be able to notice any difference in their service. The misnamed "net neutrality" was a solution in search of a problem. Can't wait to see what other "neutrality" will be foisted on us next. Income neutrality? Gender neutrality?