Net neutrality regulations officially expired in the United States earlier this morning, making today the first day of a post-net neutrality internet (via The New York Times). The expiration of the laws comes six months after the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of repealing net neutrality, a vote that has since faced intense backlash including multi-state lawsuits and a recent move by Democrats to block the repeal.
Although supporters and opponents of net neutrality greatly disagree on how the internet will look following the repeal, without the rules internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T now have the legal ability to throttle any traffic on their networks, and block access to sites and services completely, as long as they inform their customers of their actions. In essence, many have theorized that this could lead to ISPs bundling “packages” of internet sites and selling them like cable companies, as well as putting high-paying customers in “fast lanes” and everyone else in “slow lanes.”
Of course, all of these changes won’t happen at once, and some states won’t see any affect from the disappearance of net neutrality today due to local legislation. Washington state governor Jay Inslee signed a law in March that effectively reinstated the federal net neutrality rules for its residents, and other state governors in Montana and New York are said to have used executive orders “to force net neutrality.” A total of 29 state legislatures had introduced bills to ensure net neutrality as of May, but many failed or are still pending today as the national repeal takes place.
Democrats took to the Senate last month and won a vote to restore net neutrality rules across the country, which is now facing a major hurdle in the House of Representatives. According to Bloomberg, Democrats are now “less than 50 votes” from advancing their resolution in the House that would reinstate net neutrality protections, with a petition to force a vote at 170 of 218 signatures needed. If the measure ultimately makes it to President Trump’s desk, it’s believed that it would likely still be struck down as the President wouldn’t go against a regulation created by his own FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
The pro-net neutrality petition’s sponsor, Representative Mike Doyle, noted that many see the measure gaining momentum as customers become aware of how things could change in the future.
“If certain services are blocked or throttled, they get it,” Doyle said. “People start to understand, these are protections for consumers that no longer exist.”
In contrast, USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter said the outcry is unfounded and pointed out that “it’s business as usual on the internet today.”
“It’s business as usual on the internet today — movies are streaming, e-commerce is thriving, and advocates are using the internet to make their voices heard,” said Jonathan Spalter, president of broadband trade group USTelecom with members including AT&T and Verizon. “These positive and profound benefits of a free and open internet — among many others — are here to stay.”
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a press conference on Friday that today’s repeal will lead to “better, faster, cheaper internet access for consumers, and more competition.” Supporters of the repeal cite the return to an “open” and less regulated internet, seen prior to the 2015 induction of net neutrality. Multiple groups taking the FCC’s side in the debate and in numerous legal battles include wireless communications trade association CTIA, which represents AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and NCTA, an association representing cable carriers like Comcast and Charter.
As Democrats gather votes in the House, many of the big technology companies have voiced support of net neutrality, including Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Although the company and its executives have not discussed the topic in a few months, Apple’s comment last year stated that the net neutrality repeal 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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