On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to dismantle net neutrality rules set in place by the Obama administration in 2015. The vote will be led by Chairman Ajit Pai, who introduced a plan to reclassify broadband internet access as a utility allegedly in favor of corporate and job growth. Pai introduced his plan in April, which received a 2-1 vote to advance into the planning stage, reeling in more than 22 million comments from the public.
Reversing the net neutrality rules will allow internet service providers (ISP) to possibly block or throttle specific traffic. For instance, an ISP could choose to slow the data flow of Netflix in favor of its own video streaming service. To bring its video flow back up to speed on that specific ISP, Netflix would have to pay more money for a “fast lane.” That additional fee would be felt by Netflix subscribers through an increased monthly rate.
Right now, the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules provide an even flow of data across the internet. The only speed throttling involved is tied to clamping down on pirates and on people using more than their allowed amount of monthly data. But with the net neutrality rules revoked, ISPs will be free to throttle and block content at will.
“We fully support net neutrality,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said a few years back. “We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it.”
Even members of the FCC are opposed to reversing net neutrality rules. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called the plan a “destructive path” that doesn’t place broadband subscribers first. Without the rules, affordable internet access will become more difficult to obtain by low-income Americans. The FCC majority, according to Clyburn, is siding with billion-dollar companies instead of the public interest it was established to protect.
“What consumers want is fast, affordable broadband access,” Clyburn said. “What consumers want is access to a free and open internet without fear of being throttled or assessed a toll by their broadband service provider. Sadly, what they have is an FCC majority that feels otherwise.”
Reclassifying ISPs as a “public utility” (think land-based phones) will push them under the corporate-friendly “telecommunications business” envelope. Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler used the Communications Act of 1934 two years ago to better regulate broadband providers. Up until then, broadband providers were managed under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
But even in 2015, Pai argued that the FCC had no business regulating broadband access and that the rules were unnecessary. The big tug-of-war in Washington, D.C., it seems, is that the Federal Trade Commission regulated broadband access prior to the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Thus, the bigger broadband picture is more than just net neutrality — it’s also about your privacy. The FTC said in March that the broadband classification shift from “business” to “utility” in 2015 created a privacy protection gap.
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