In a major win for the telecom industry, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans Tuesday to scrap net neutrality regulations that require internet providers to treat all content equally.
If all goes as Pai plans, the FCC will meet and vote on the repeal on Dec. 14. It’s expected to pass 3-2, along party lines.
The move, long sought by internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon (which owns Oath, HuffPost’s parent company), would give the already monopolistic companies even more power over how its customers access content online.
Under the new plan, for instance, Comcast could theoretically throttle or block access to content it doesn’t like, or it could incentivize other content by offering it for free or at faster speeds. Netflix, for example, which competes directly with Comcast’s cable TV offerings, could see itself on the losing end of the new rules.
Netflix joined with tech giants like Google parent company Alphabet, Facebook and hundreds of other websites earlier this year to protest Pai’s plan and encourage members of the public to submit their comments to the FCC.
According to an analysis by the data analytics company Gravwell, more than 80 percent of the comments were sent by bots. The remaining 17.4 percent that were found to be authentic were “overwhelmingly in support of net neutrality regulations.”
In an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called his successor’s actions “tragic.”
“The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer,” he explained. “If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the Internet, because it gives Internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today.”
If you like your cable company, you'll love what this does for the Internet.
“Since its formation, we’ve seen a free and open internet grow our economy and our imaginations,” U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said in a statement Tuesday.
“But today the FCC has threatened to end the internet as we know it,” he continued. “If adopted, the FCC’s plan will change the way every American gets information, watches movies, listens to music, conducts business, and talks to their families. By repealing basic net neutrality protections, the FCC is handing over full control of the internet to providers, leaving the American people with fewer choices and less access.”
Twitter on Tuesday said it strongly opposed the FCC’s plans. ”[We will] continue the fight for an open Internet, which is indispensable to free expression, consumer choice and innovation,” the social media company said.
Proponents of the FCC rollback argue the current rules, which classify internet access as a utility on par with electricity and phone access, hinder investment and innovation.
Daniel Lyons, a Boston College Law School associate professor and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy, told HuffPost in an email he thinks the average consumer is unlikely to notice any difference in the short term.
(While AEI doesn’t take institutional policy positions, it has long opposed net neutrality.)
“Net neutrality is much more a battle between broadband companies and Internet content providers (like Netflix and YouTube) about who pays whom for Internet traffic,” he said. “We have to leave room for innovation and experimentation in the Internet ecosystem, and my sense is that deregulation is more likely to promote that.”