It’s been two months since the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of repealing Net Neutrality rules that were put in place by the United States government in 2015. That decision has been made official today by being entered into the Federal Register, and will become law starting April 23, 2018.
Following the vote, lawsuits began to appear in efforts to block the rollback of Net Neutrality, with one multi-state lawsuit being led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and 22 other Attorneys General. As pointed out by TechCrunch, now that the Restoring Internet Freedom order “legally exists,” every opponent in the U.S., “from citizens to attorney generals to governors and senators,” will be able to begin their own lawsuits over the decision.
Prior to today, many actions contemplated and indeed announced by opponents of the rule were technically not possible, since the rule was technically not yet in force. A state can’t, for example, argue that its own laws are infringed upon by a rule until that rule legally exists.
Today is the moment that the net neutrality repeal legally exists, and you’re going to see a lot — a lot — of actions taken against it, all over the country.
The decision was heavily debated leading up to the vote in December, with proponents arguing the internet will now go back to a “light-touch regulatory scheme” it faced prior to 2015 and the advent of Net Neutrality. Opponents of the repeal vocalized fear that internet service providers will now be able to slow down internet speeds — or block access completely — to certain websites they see as competitors, among other concerns.
Specifically, the FCC’s vote reclassifies ISPs as “information service” providers — as they were between February 1996 and February 2015 — instead of classifying them as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. According to the Federal Register document published today, the decision to do this was made to restore broadband internet services as a “lightly-regulated” market. This means that one of the only major stipulations placed on ISPs like AT&T and Comcast is that if they do throttle a user’s internet for any reason, they must disclose it. For its part, AT&T has said it is “committed to an open internet.”
A report by Recode in January examined how major technology companies responded to the Net Neutrality debate, with Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google spending about $50 million in 2017 lobbying the government on the issue. Apple alone was said to have spent $7 million on lobbying last year with a focus on encryption and immigration as well as Net Neutrality, growing from $4.5 million in 2016.
Apple’s push against the repeal of Net Neutrality included a letter from August 2017 urging the FCC not to roll back the rules. Apple’s letter discussed internet “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” where paid fast lanes could result in an “internet with distorted competition.” Apple ultimately said this ruling could “fundamentally alter the internet as we know it,” and if it passed it would be put in place to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.
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