FCC President Ajit Pai today revealed plans that critics claim that the net neutrality rules “will have problems” in the United States. The FCC will vote on plans in May.
Pai is Republican and the new person appointed by Donald Trump to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He is also a former lobbyist of Verizon and his antipathy to the regulation of the industry is well known. He described the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules as an “error”.
What is the neutrality of the network?
Network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic is treated equally by Internet service providers (ISPs) and governments. This means “do not discriminate or charge differently by the user, content, site, platform, application, type of equipment attached and communication modes”.
It is a cornerstone of innovation and freedom of expression on the Internet. Without the neutrality of the net, the Internet simply has not been successful.
What Is Net Neutrality?
–ISPs can discriminate between competing services. For example, limiting (or even blocking) content providers such as Netflix and Facebook and Google, while giving customers unlimited priority access to their own services.
– Innovation is stifled. Netflix, Facebook and Google can probably afford to pay ISPs to provide increased bandwidth for their services. Startup companies, however, will not be able to do so. This will leave behind the small innovative companies that have died in the water and will strengthen the monopolistic dominance that large established companies have on the Internet.
– Nothing prevents ISPs from strangling or even completely censoring content on political or religious grounds.
– The Internet will become fragmented into two or more “levels”. The less suitable clients will be targeted for special “cable” Internet packages that only give access to selected services. Unlimited access to the Internet will be made available to those who can afford to pay for it. This will only increase the digital divide and lead to increased economic and social inequality.
In other words, large funds will be allowed to score on the interests of ordinary people.
Net Neutrality in the United States – a timeline
The organization responsible for protecting the interests of ordinary Internet users is the FCC. It is the (theoretically) governmental body responsible for regulating telecommunications services in the United States in the United States.
– In 2010, the FCC introduced the Open Internet Order. Although this is not far enough from the views of many net neutral activists, it has established a set of regulations to enforce network neutrality. These incensed ISPs, such as Comcast, AT & T and Verizon, who spent millions of dollars challenging the court order and lobbying the government for its repeal.
– In January 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the Open Internet Order 2010 invalid. It did not take long for ISPs to start discriminating against certain types of Internet traffic.
– The FCC intervened to intervene to fulfill its consumer advocacy role on the Internet. Obama’s nominated president Tom Wheeler, however, was a former lobbyist in the telecommunications industry and showed little appetite for enforcing the new net neutrality rules. This has led to a massive base campaign by Internet activists to save network neutrality.
– In the summer of 2014, the FCC was forced to extend a 60-day public comment period following an “overwhelming traffic surge” on its site. More than four million comments were received, resulting in the collapse of the FCC website. The vast majority of comments received were in support of net neutrality. Even President Obama was involved in supporting the neutrality of the network, although he refused to intervene out of respect for the FCC as an independent body.
– In February 2015, the FCC rejected public pressure and reclassified Internet services as a public carrier under Part II. These have firmly placed them under the control of the FCC. At the same time, it has introduced clear and fairly stringent rules of net neutrality (despite some important concessions made to the ISP bottom line). See here a complete degradation of these rules.
– In January 2017, Donald Trump appointed FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai to replace Tom Wheeler.
– At 1:30 pm EST on April 26, 2017, Ajit Pai delivered a speech announcing significant changes to the FCC rules in anticipation of a plan,
“… Reverse the mistake of Part II and return to the light regulatory framework that served our nation well during the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and the first six years of the Obama administration.”
What will happen?
Pai’s plan is to classify broadband as a “Title I information service”, which means that the rules on blocking, strangulation and paid priority would essentially disappear, although Pai mentioned that He would seek public comment on these rules.
The truth is that nobody really knows what will happen. On the basis of Pai’s earlier statements, however, expert observers expect that, instead of current enforcement rules, ISPs will be asked to make voluntary and non-binding commitments on the principle of net neutrality.
In theory, the Federal Trade Commission could go after ISPs that do not live up to these promises on the grounds that they have led to misleading customers. As noted by Nilay Patel of The Verge and former FCC advisor Gigi Sohn, it is unlikely that it will ever happen.
Companies change their terms of service all the time without the FCC getting involved. Even if this has been done, the FTC can only respond responsively once the damage has already been done. Moreover, it is far from clear that, in the context of Pai’s proposals, Internet service providers will indeed be required to make such promises!
Network neutrality exists only in the United States due to mass mobilization by network neutrality activists in 2014. It is expected that today’s changes will generate even more breathlessness.
This is particularly true as the destruction of network neutrality is difficult as the Republican government strengthens all Internet users by allowing ISPs to sell their personal web browsing stories. As Scott Byrom, general manager here at BestVPN.com, exclaimed:
“I imagine that the panels of these ISPs are making cartwheels right now having the best month ever, which means that Donald Trump is the best on his list of Christmas cards.”
For a president whose slogan was to “dredge the swamp” of political corruption due to corporate lobbying, this movement is truly a doozy.
Those sitting outside the US and watching satisfactorily should note that about 80% of all Internet traffic flows through ISPs in the US. On top of that, ISPs and governments around the world are watching developments in the US with keen interest …
On a personal level, using a VPN can help overcome attempts to create a two-tiered Internet. It is absolutely necessary to discriminate encrypted traffic if your ISP can not even see it! The disadvantage is that ISPs may simply decide to discriminate all VPN traffic! It is likely (probably) that this happens, as many companies rely on corporate VPN networks.
Fight for the Future defends network neutrality and already enjoys broad support from the Internet community. I urge readers to visit its pages to find out what they can do to protect the open and democratic Internet we all know and love.