FCC Votes to End NetNeutrality By: Bianca Ybarra, Esq. Most people canagree that the internet is playing an increasingly important role in oureveryday lives.
As a result, any change that impacts the regulation of theinternet and our ability to access it quickly becomes a newsworthy topic. The BasicsGenerally, theterm “net neutrality” is the principle that service providers must refrain fromtreating traffic on the internet differently. Regardless of whether a user isstreaming video or posting pictures, service providers must not block ordiscriminate against content or applications. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutralityregulations werepassed in 2015 under the Obama administration. The goal of the regulations wasto ensure the internet remain open and fair. In February of 2015, the FCC ruledin favor of net neutrality when they reclassified broadband as a common carrierunder Title II of the CommunicationsAct of 1934and Section 706 of the TelecommunicationsAct of 1996.The purpose of the regulations was to preserve internet integrity by encouragingconsumer choice, freedom of expression, competition, and the freedom toinnovate. In accordancewith the regulations, internet service providers were prohibited from discriminatingagainst online content.
More precisely, internet service providers were notallowed to regulate traffic from specific websites or put their own content atan advantage over rivals. This made intentionally speeding up or slowing downtraffic from specific websites or illegal. For instance, AT&T could notslow down a service like Netflix to put its own streaming video service at anadvantage, nor could it force Hulu to pay more money to receive faster streamingspeeds.
The RepealIn a victory forinternet service providers all over the United States like Comcast, Verizon,and AT&T, the FCC voted to repeal the regulations it passed in 2015 thatprevented broadband companies from blocking or slowing down access to websitesor services. At its monthlymeeting on December 14, 2017, and despite widespread opposition, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donaldtrump moved forward with the vote. In a 3-2 vote, the repeal proposal passed, removingthe net neutrality regulations put in place just two years ago. This vote eliminatesthe regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or slowing downonline content. Thus, for instance, Comcast can now charge customers who useNetflix more for using so much bandwidth; or AT&T can, in theory, blockaccess to any websites it chooses entirely. In addition, the regulation prohibitinginternet providers from discriminating against content in their favor has alsobeen eliminated.
Without the prohibition on these activities, internet providersmust openly disclose any examples of blocking, throttling, or paidprioritization. Whether the actions are illegal or not will be based on whetherthe activity is anti-competitive. In addition torepealing the net neutrality regulations, the new FCC regulations also deny stateand local governments the power to pass their own laws regulating the broadbandservice. How Wil Repealing Net Neutrality Affectthe ConsumerIt is criticalto understand that the consumer will not notice an immediate difference in theinternet now that the FCC has voted to repeal the regulations. Before it can gointo effect, the repeal must be published in the Federal Register, which maynot happen until early in the coming year.
Nonetheless, because the change willtake time, it is unlikely that the internet experience will change overnight. Any changes tobe implemented are likely to happen over time as companies begin to changebusiness models and services. Although services like Netflix and Hulu will notdisappear overnight, advocates for net neutrality worry how the repeal mayimpact the new, younger services. Jump-start companies may struggle to contractwith internet service providers and pay to have their content delivered. Thiscould fundamentally alter the future internet setup and the market as a whole.
It is importantto recognize that the repeal could change how customers are billed for theservices they use. Without net neutrality, internet providers are now legallyable to pursue similar offers more assertively. What is Next?Concerned thatinternet providers will control internet traffic in anti-competitive ways, supportersof net neutrality have pledged to continue the fight in court. When the repealis published in the Federal Register in early 2018, we can expect lawsuits tobe filed.
Bianca Ybarra is a Staff Writer forGetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center and amember of the State Bar of Texas.