Well, it happened.
Despite overwhelming opposition (including a bomb threat that temporarily evacuated the hearing room), and requests for delay from 18 state attorneys over concerns of a corrupted public comment process, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday repealed regulations protecting the free and open internet–known as net neutrality–three to two along party lines.
The internet as we know it will now no longer be classified as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunication Act, requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to regard all network data equally.
Without that protection, ISPs can legally begin discriminating between web content.
Comcast, for instance, could charge Netflix customers extra for requiring more bandwidth; AT&T could decide to block access to certain websites; Verizon could decide to throttle content that may be critical of it or its subsidiaries; people’s political affiliations could be used as a pretext to slow down their connection speeds, or to block content they access altogether.
Millions are asking, “What now?”
According to Tech Crunch:
“When the rules get entered in the federal register, the floodgates open. Right off the bat I can think of a number of different lawsuits or challenges that could be filed.”
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson plans on filing a legal challenge on grounds that the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Allowing internet service providers to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open internet. Today’s action will seriously harm consumers, innovation and small businesses.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing as well.
He argues the FCC handed telecom companies an early “Christmas present” giving internet service providers another method by which to put corporate profits over consumers.
He said in a statement:
“Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.”
Shortly after the ruling came down, he tweeted:
“I will sue to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of #netneutrality. New Yorkers and all Americans deserve a free and open internet.”
Expect lawmakers to push for net neutrality legislation.
California state senator, Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), said he plans to introduce a bill requiring net neutrality in California.
“California can regulate business practices to require net neutrality, condition state contracts on adhering to net neutrality, and require net neutrality as part of cable franchise agreements, as a condition to using the public right-of-way for internet infrastructure, and in broadband packages.”
Expect movement on Capitol Hill.
Markey said in a statement:
“We will fight the FCC’s decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress. With this CRA, Congress can correct the Commission’s misguided and partisan decision and keep the internet in the hands of the people, not big corporations.”
Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) has announced he supports that measure as well.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association head, Michael Powell, sought to allay people’s concerns, claiming just because ISPs can now legally discriminate against internet traffic and create “fast” and “slow” lanes, it does not mean they will.
“There are a lot of things in our society we don’t expressly prohibit, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to happen. There’s no law that says I can’t paint my house hot pink, but I assure you I have no intention of doing it.”
Although ISPs have pledged not to prioritize web traffic, under the regulation roll-back, customers are powerless to do much else but take them at their word.
And that word has already been questionable.
Last week, Comcast surreptitiously altered a net neutrality pledge it wouldn’t “prioritize internet traffic or create paid fast lanes” that had been on its website since 2014. It was replaced with the more conservative pledge to “not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.”
There is nothing stopping Comcast from deciding arbitrarily to reverse its pledge next week.
Already Comcast urged the FCC to ignore its existing enforcement regulation and defer instead to the Federal Trade Commission, creating a “voluntary” net neutrality system in which ISPs would encounter no rules and be permitted to choose whether or not to honor net neutrality commitments.
Comcast isn’t the first.
Fortunately, we have processes in place to mitigate immediate disaster, but the FCC’s mechinations yesterday are just one more example of lengths the Trump administration is willing to go to serve the corporations and the wealth literally at our expense.
Image credit: tech-52.com