Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to repeal net neutrality laws that were put in place by the Obama Administration in 2015.
“The internet is the greatest free-market innovation in history,” Ajit Pai, the Republican who took over as FCC chairman in January and pushed the repeal, said before the vote. ”Entrepreneurs and innovators guided the internet far better than the heavy hand of government ever could have,” he continued.
The 3-2 party-line vote by the FCC tears down the utility-like oversight of internet service providers that was put in place with the intention of ensuring the uninhibited flow of data online.
So how screwed is the internet?
It depends on who you ask. The left side of the political spectrum will explain that without net neutrality ISPs and mobile companies will go on a rampage, blocking or throttling internet speed to competitor run websites and services.
”As a result of today’s misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new powers,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC who voted against the repeal. ”They will have the power to block websites, the power to throttle services and the power to censor online content,” they will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have a pay-for-play arrangement and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
Net neutrality — also popularly known as open Internet — is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should give consumers access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis, without favoring some sources or blocking others. This means that Verizon — owner of the streaming service go90 — couldn’t block or throttle internet speed when a customer uses a competitive streaming service. There are several examples of this happening prior to the 2015 net neutrality laws:
- From 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone. The wireless provider wanted to prevent iPhone users from using any application that would allow them to make calls on such “over-the-top” voice services.
- From 2011–2013, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon blocked Google Wallet, a mobile-payment system that competed with a similar service called Isis, which all three companies had a stake in developing.
- In 2012, AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribed to a more expensive text-and-voice plan. AT&T had one goal in mind: separating customers from more of their money by blocking alternatives to AT&T’s own products.
Companies like Amazon and Netflix don’t have much to worry about with the repeal. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings already expressed his lack of concern long before the vote took place.
“We’re big enough to get the deals we want,” Hastings explained at Recode’s Code Conference in June.
Of course, none of the 200 OTT platforms currently on the market are as large as Netflix, which means this change in policy can be far more detrimental. Upstart companies may struggle to strike deals with providers and pay more to have their content delivered faster, which could fundamentally alter the future internet landscape.
Of Course, not everyone is sad about the decision
You wouldn’t know it by browsing Reddit or other popular websites, but many — usually on the right side of the political spectrum — oppose net neutrality. A majority of these neutrality opponents believe that anything the government does is done with inefficiency and are worried about that same inefficiency infecting the world wide web.
They believe that net neutrality harms potential investments in the industry. Many on the right point to a 2014 study that estimated net neutrality regulations could result in as much as $45.4 billion in new ISP investments being lost over few years. Additionally, opponents of net neutrality share the belief that companies — which tend to take up more bandwidth than average consumers — should pay more due to the strains they place on the growing infrastructure. Netflix for example consumes a huge amount of peak traffic bandwidth, which costs ISPs money, same with Pornography sites. As Alexandra Petri of Washington Post once wrote, “To use one of those dreaded analogies, if you are constantly driving huge trucks, full of big deliveries of pornography, along a road, why shouldn’t you have to pay more for the road’s upkeep?”
So what happens now?
Now that the repeal has been made official, it will likely be headed to court. Several groups have expressed plans to file lawsuits against the decision on the grounds that the FCC didn’t seriously consider the millions of pro-net neutrality comments submitted to the commission or the million of fake comments in favor of the repeal. There will also be a push to get Congress to bring back net neutrality regulations through legislation.
One thing is for sure, the fight isn’t over.