Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal Net Neutrality rules yesterday. Sadly, this was a partisan vote, with the three Republican Commissioners voting to repeal and the two Democratic Commissioners voting to keep the rules in place. This is not and should not be a political issue. The vote represents just about everything that is wrong with our government today. The party is more important than the constituency. I’m not going to get in to the political issues around this vote. Instead, I’m going to focus on what this means for the average consumer and business user of the Internet.
In the near term, nothing should change. The Net Neutrality rules that were repealed were in place to assure that no Internet Service Provider (ISP) would be able to block or throttle the ability to reach anything on the Internet. It also prevented an ISP from charging content providers or end users, higher fees in order to access everything online. The repeal of these rules means this could all change. As a friend of mine put it, it would be as if the brand of car you own dictates how fast you may drive. For example, Ford‘s are limited to only driving 40 MPH on highways, but Lexus‘ are able to drive 85 MPH. If you own a Lexus, you’ll get where you are going faster than if you buy a Ford. That’s the thrust of the issue.
The arguments around this issue are many and there is host of misinformation being circulated to back up any given position. These rules were only put in place a few years ago and are widely referred to as “Obama-era” rules. There in lies one of the fundamental problems, in my opinion. This ties the rules to one person, a former president, a member of the opposing party to the one in power today and simply politicizes the entire matter. The fact of the matter is that there have been some form of Net Neutrality rules in place for many years. They were strengthened a few years ago in response to an ISP blocking content that threatened its business and resulting legal battles.
The argument that the rules were not needed because there are no issues is partly true and partly false. The Internet has been largely open and unrestricted, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned. From the consolidation of media and technology companies to emerging business models that challenge established norms, the potential for Net Neutrality issues is growing daily.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who I have written about before, referred to the vote as a “rash decision” that puts the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.” She may be right, especially about that last part. Some statistics show as many as 85% of the American public opposed the repeal. If the Commissioners were putting people over party, you would think they would have upheld the rules. But I digress.
Will you see any immediate changes? I don’t think so. First of all, the changes will take weeks to put in place. ISP’s, wireless carriers and other businesses involved in the delivery of Internet services will need to evaluate their business models and potential risks should they elect to make any changes based on the repeal. One could imagine significant public backlash should an ISP like Comcast change their plans to require either content providers or consumers to pay higher fee in order to have access to certain sites and services online. You would think they will think long and hard about the implications of changing how they deliver Internet service.
Several State Attorneys General have said they will file lawsuits to try to stop the repeal from taking effect. At this early date, it’s unclear if this could be successful. Many members of both the House and Senate have said they will consider legislation to restore the rules. Several groups, including watchdogs and trade associations have said they may also file suit.
This entire issue is likely to become messier before it settles down. For now, you should not have anything to worry about. In the meantime, I’ll keep tabs on this issue and post updates as I learn more.