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).
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.
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