The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States voted to dismantle the rules set forth by former President Barack Obama to regulate internet service providers in the country. The FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai voted 3-2 in favour of repealing the regulations, granting broadband companies the power to potentially change the way Americans use the internet.
The Obama-era net neutrality rules prohibited ISPs to throttle or block websites or charge extra money for higher-quality services or for certain content. The earlier rules also mandated the internet to be provided as a utility service, similar to electricity or water, as more and more Americans used the internet for communication.
Pai, and his fellow proponents for dismantling net neutrality said the existing regulations have led to “higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation and fewer options for consumers.”
Yet, advocates for net-neutrality are afraid that repealing the rules will grant ISPs extraordinary powers to create a pay-to-play model for the internet where websites could be charged extra to load faster and other preferential treatments. ISPs will also have the power to slow its competitor's websites or block content that they don’t agree with, or impose data limits on users.
While Republican commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Brendan Carr voted in favour of repealing the rules along with Pai, Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn opposed it.
In her dissenting opinion, Rosenworcel said the decision was a “misguided action” and “broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency. They will have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favour the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.”
Although the vote to dismantle the regulations did pass, the fight is far from over. Net neutrality advocacy groups have announced they will challenge FCC’s decision in court on grounds of violation of federal laws. Additionally, the New York attorney general has announced a multi-state lawsuit challenging the repeal on the grounds of investigating fake public comments on FCC’s website. It was found that millions of comments in favour of the repeal were fraudulent and came from Russian email addresses.
It will however, take some time, for the repeal to go into effect. Consumers are unlikely to see an immediate impact. But critics say consumers will face difficulty in accessing online content and startups may have to pay more to reach audiences. Although, major players like AT&T and Comcast have promised they will not hamper consumer’s online experiences.
It is also unlikely that the repeal will have any impact whatsoever in India. TRAI, the regulatory authority with oversight over ISPs had ruled in favour of having net neutrality rules in India. Nikhil Pahwa, Co-Founder of Internet Freedom Foundation said, “the TRAI's view of Net Neutrality has so far been diametrically opposite to Ajit Pai's FCC, and with good reason. Net Neutrality ensures that all ISPs and telecom operators act as exchanges of data between users, and do not discriminate on the basis of the type or source of that data. This allows for permission-less innovation on the Internet, which has given us the Internet that we have today.”