On Thursday, December 14th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate specific regulations on the Internet that had been implemented by the Obama administration in 2015.This vote has ignited a firestorm of controversy regarding net neutrality the umbrella term “net neutrality.” However, it must be asked, what led to this vote, and what was the objective of the vote?
On March 12, 2015, the FCC introduced specific regulations. These regulations were enacted in response to the FCC reclassifying the high-speed Internet as a public utility. The goal was to ensure an open and equal Internet for all content. It is from the introduction of these regulations that the controversy regarding net neutrality entered the frame.
When a consumer requests data at the click of a mouse, the data has to go through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to reach the consumer on their screen. These net neutrality laws were put in place, so all of this data has to be delivered at the same rate. Since the FCC reclassified High-Speed Internet as a utility, ISPs were obliged to ensure the delivery rate of data was equal for all Americans.
When the FCC made its recent vote on December 14th, some, but not all of the Obama era regulations were overturned. Two specific regulations were overturned. First, the regulation prohibiting ISPs from blocking websites or charging for higher quality service was overturned. Second, the Federal government removed the classification of High-Speed Internet as a commodity and will no longer be able to regulate, resulting in controversy regarding net neutrality.
This deregulation has sparked concern that it leaves little to no way to control large ISPs such as Comcast from abusing their power. For example, it is feared that without these regulations ISPs could charge their users extra for accessing services that are available from their competitors. Another concern is that this move would stifle any attempts at innovation since ISPs could control the efforts of start-up companies to reach customers.
However, those who support the vote by the FCC point to the fact that this is a step forward for a free market economy because it eliminates excessive government regulation, though increasing the controversy regarding net neutrality.
When interviewed on Fox New’s “Fox & Friends,” the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, defended the decision to remove these regulations. Pai stated, “All we are simply doing is putting engineers and entrepreneurs, instead of bureaucrats and lawyers, back in charge of the internet… What we wanted to do is return to the free market consensus that started in the Clinton administration, and that served the Internet economy in America very well for many years.”
Pai also dismissed concerns that lack of regulation would lead to ISPs throttling consumers. Pai referred again to the state of the Internet before the Obama-era regulations, “That’s not the internet economy we had from 1996 until 2015 when these rules were imposed. There was nothing broken about the internet before 2015.”
Regardless of any statements from Pai, many are concerned that this is not enough to protect consumers from unethical business practices. This fear has led to some pushing for a political solution to reinstate what the FCC deregulated. In response to the FCC vote, the US Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), declared that he would force a vote on legislation that would reinstate the Obama administration regulations.
The controversy regarding net neutrality has quickly become one of the most hot button topics in recent weeks. It is to be seen what else will develop and what will ultimately happen to the Obama administration regulations.