FCC repeals net neutrality

Elsa Scott, Opinion Editor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), headed by chairman Ajit Pai, voted to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality regulations on Dec. 14. The regulations were set in place to ensure an equal-access Internet, which prevented cable companies from interfering with their customer’s Internet usage or charge users for their Internet speed. The vote was extremely controversial, with a huge wave of protest from citizens, small businesses and also large companies.

Net neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. That is why Netflix runs at the same speed as gmail, why small businesses often find their platform for growth online and why groups of vastly different opinions can exist with equal access to broadband services.

The first rules to regulate net neutrality were passed in December 2010 under President Obama. However, just weeks after this vote, Verizon Communications filed a federal lawsuit that would eventually overturn the order in 2014. Then in 2015, the FCC voted in favor of strong net neutrality regulations.

The 2015 net neutrality rules categorized Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as “common carriers”, which is a term describing any public entity that transports goods or people. The federal government can regulate common carriers to ensure they are providing equal services to all customers without bias. This means that ISPs must treat all Internet data equally, and they can not block or slow down traffic from services that compete with their own.  

The FCC’s decision to repeal these regulations stems from the desire to increase competition between providers and also enable the existence of “fast lanes”. Without net neutrality, the ISPs could split the Internet into “fast” and “slow” lanes, which are essentially different levels of service for different applications. Treating all Internet data equally means that there is no room for boosting up services that need it, like streaming videos or running digital reality simulations.

However, “fast” and “slow” lanes also increase the possibility of censorship and the discouragement of entrepreneurial endeavors. ISPs would have the power to stifle services offered by their competitors and bolster their own, resulting in leaving a consumer with less options for browsing or using. ISPs also would charge more for the use of the “fast” lanes, resulting in the monopolization of “fast” lanes by big corporations and organizations, leaving small start-up businesses and non-profit organizations to deal with slower service because they couldn’t afford the faster, more expensive option.

“In a free market economy, substantial regulations often limit the competitiveness of the market; however, in this case, eliminating all regulations has opened Pandora’s Box. There is no certainty as to how high the prices could get, and as a result Internet access could be limited to the rich,” Zachary Holden (’18) said.

In the weeks since the vote, not much has changed. It is too early to tell yet whether or not the repeal of net neutrality will result in the corrupt, corporation-run constricted Internet many fear it will be or the innovative and progressive Internet the FCC promises it will be.