U.S. Internet in ISP Clutches; FCC Net Neutrality Repeal Plan Goes Ahead before Thanksgiving

Obama Net Neutrality Rules Under Threat
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Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), released a net neutrality repeal plan that seeks to change the way business is done over the Internet, creating potential free speech and equal access issues down the line. The move would be a response to former President Barack Obama’s net neutrality rules, which designated Internet service providers (ISPs) as Title II utilities, branding them as public utilities and therefore forcing them to provide equal access. The content provider costs in the U.S. may also jump as a result of this repeal.

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“This burdensome regulation has failed consumers and businesses alike,” Pai wrote in The Wall Street Journal, referencing the Obama net neutrality rules. “In the two years after the FCC’s decision, broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6%—the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession. If the current rules are left in place, millions of Americans who are on the wrong side of the digital divide would have to wait years to get more broadband.”

Pai went on to preempt his critics in his statement. “In the next few weeks, anti-market ideologues are going to try to scare the American people,” he added. “They’ll argue that government control is the only way to assure a free and open internet. They’ll assert that repealing utility-style regulation will destroy the internet as we know it and harm innovation. They’ll allege that free speech online is at risk. Don’t fall for the fearmongering.”

He also said that consumers, “will benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure, which will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, and cheaper internet access—especially in rural America.”

The FCC vote will take place on December 14. The panel of commissioners has a three-to-two Republican leaning, meaning that the repeal is likely to pass.

Trump Govt. Releases Anti Net Neutrality Plan Before Thanksgiving to Cover Its Negatives

Many are concerned that Ajit Pai and the Federal Communications Commission are releasing this news before Thanksgiving in order to provide a cover to what is seen as a potentially unpopular plan.

Net neutrality has been on the public conscious several times before this, usually by way of public outcry meant to preserve the Obama era rules.

John Oliver famously did a segment on the issue, asking his viewers to swamp the FCC website with comments on net neutrality. The campaign was so successful that the FCC website was overwhelmed and had to briefly shut down.

Source: “Net Neutrality: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO),” YouTube video, 13:17, June 1, 2014, posted by “LastWeek Tonight,” last watched November 22, 2017.

There are several concerns that supporters of net neutrality have a plan to repeal the current laws.

The first is that without net neutrality, a fair Internet would cease to exist. The reasoning being that bigger corporations would be able to pay Internet service providers (ISPs) for faster load times, giving them a huge boon in terms of competing on the Internet. Smaller start-ups and businesses would be unable to pay those fees, and therefore would be at a severe disadvantage. This would then help solidify the power of large corporations to the detriment of potentially innovative smaller companies.

Another fear is that free speech may be hampered by the end of net neutrality. For instance, corporations could pay to ensure that the information they want to spread is prioritized, whereas information that is critical of these companies may load slower or be harder to find. The ISPs themselves may also favor certain sites, giving them increased visibility and exposure.

There are also concerns that the FCC plan will leave consumers highly vulnerable to price hikes from ISPs should net neutrality fall. Under the Obama net neutrality rules, ISPs cannot charge different prices for different specific services over the internet. For instance, an ISP cannot charge a consumer for a social media Internet package that would provide faster speeds for specific applications, and then charge a separate extra fee for those who would want optimization for news, streaming, gaming, uploading, etc.

While supporters of Ajit Pai and his plan claim that market forces would help keep ISPs from juicing their consumers, many Americans don’t have a choice in terms of ISP providers. In nearly one-fifth of the country, there is only a single provider of high-connection speeds. The lack of competition could potentially allow ISPs in those areas to charge whatever they like without fear of losing customers.

A final shadow looming over the net neutrality repeal is an investigation undertaken by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who is looking into what he called a “massive scheme to corrupt the @FCC comment process” on net neutrality. The attorney general claims that the FCC has been uncooperative in the investigation, creating further controversy surrounding this already heated debate.

 

Sources

While you’re preparing to carve Thanksgiving turkey, the FCC will be slicing into net neutrality,The Register, November 21, 2017.

FCC boss Wheeler: Lack of broadband choice is screwing Americans,The Register, September 4, 2014.

How the FCC Can Save the Open Internet,” The Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2017.

NY AG probing ‘massive scheme’ to influence FCC with fake net neutrality comments,” The Hill, November 22, 2017.

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