“Net neutrality” is coming to an end, as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that he will repeal the Obama-era internet regulations.
“The federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” said Ajit Pai, FCC chairman.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality rules, established in 2015 under the FCC’s then-Democratic majority, allowed the federal government to prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to content, or from charging consumers more for certain content.
The purpose of the rules was to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent favoritism from internet service providers.
What happens now?
Internet service providers say that removing all the red tape and regulatory burden of net neutrality frees them up, allowing the time and financial resources to make the internet better and more widely available.
“Such regulation is entirely unnecessary and imposes substantial costs that undermine investment and innovation in the broadband ecosystem and undercut efforts to bridge the digital divide in this country,” Comcast said in a statement to the FCC over the summer.
Is there a downside?
Here are some arguments in favor of keeping net neutrality rules in place:
- Removing net neutrality rules could lead to a “pay-for-play” system in which companies pay to be boosted by internet service providers, which would be a serious disadvantage to smaller companies and entrepreneurs with limited budgets.
- In the pay-for-play environment, diversity of views could diminish online, with the content most readily available coming from whoever can pay internet companies the most.
- With broadband companies growing and in some cases purchasing or merging with large tech companies, bias can come into play. For example, Verizon owns Yahoo, so there could be incentive for Verizon to deliver Yahoo content more quickly than, say Google content.
Under the new landscape, internet service providers would be required to make public any sites or content that they block or slow down.
The Federal Trade Commission will be charged with protecting consumers from any unfair business practices.
This issue will likely be challenged again in court, and some believe this is the first step by the FCC chairman to put pressure on Democrats and gain leverage for a legislative compromise on net neutrality down the road.
Until and unless the issue is resolved by Congress, the rules could change each time a president of another party is elected.