The Federal Communications Commission has announced that net neutrality rules will expire on June 11th. Democratic senators have called for reinstating net neutrality protections. Corporations such as Twitter, Reddit, and Yahoo-owned Tumblr have issued support for net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a term first coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. It is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. If there is no net neutrality, then providers can choose to make certain sites and content faster to load than others. It can charge money to access specific websites. It will have unlimited control over content viewed and perused by millions across the world on the internet.
Founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, is among the figures that has spoken in favour of net neutrality. “Gas is a utility, so is clean water, and connectivity should be too,” he said in 2017. Berners-Lee has also addressed the digital divide and the numerous inequalities that exist in the world today. He has advocated for inclusivity and access in terms of connectivity.
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government founded in 1934. It regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety, and homeland security. It is also committed to modernizing itself and these sectors.
In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the net neutrality laws that were imposed during the tenure of former US President Barack Obama. The FCC is currently led by the Republican majority. The FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai has strongly rallied against net neutrality.
In 2017, Berners-Lee was signatory to an open letter opposing the repeal. “The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped. It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology,” read the letter.
The FCC has announced that Net Neutrality rules will be rolled back on 11th June. Chairman Ajit Pai told reporters that the “unnecessary and harmful Internet regulations” imposed by the Obama administration will be repealed, and “the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored.”
“The Federal Trade Commission will once again be empowered to target any unfair or deceptive business practices of Internet service providers and to protect American’s broadband privacy,” Pai said. Pai's plan has been praised by the telecom industry, which argues the earlier regulation was a drag on broadband innovation. Pai and other critics of net neutrality claim that it discourages investment in infrastructure. They believe that customers might benefit from the option of paying a premium service.
The new rules will require ISP to tell consumers if they will offer paid prioritization of internet traffic. Pai recently told reporters that the new rules would not harm consumers. “The effect of this will be better, faster, cheaper internet access and the free and open internet that we have had for many, many years,” he said.
Proponents of net neutrality have argued that repealing the Obama administration's Open Internet Order will take control away from users and allow ISPs to act as gatekeepers to internet access. Acting New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said, “The repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to put their profits before the consumers they serve and control what we see, do, and say online.”
Democratic FCC officials have concurred. “The agency failed to listen to the American public and gave short shrift to their deeply held belief that internet openness should remain the law of the land,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “The FCC is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people.”
Democratic senators have called for a Congressional Review Act which, if passed by the senate, will overturn the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality. More than 20 states have filed a lawsuit to stop the repeal. The Senate may vote on this next week. However, the CRA will also have to pass the Republican-controlled house and be signed by President Trump in order to take effect.
In India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) has strongly backed net neutrality. In its Recommendations on Net Neutrality issued in November last year, it recommended that “all licenced telecom service providers (TSPs) providing Internet services in India should be bound to follow the “core principles” of net neutrality.”
Our assessment is that the FCC’s decision may not be repealed, given the Trump administration’s propensity to overrule Obama-era legislation. We believe that the internet was developed as a fair and unbiased platform for people to access information. Governments should work to preserve the freedom and accessibility of the web. As stated previously, we feel that net neutrality is important so that ISPs cannot legally give preferential treatment to services they directly profit from and block those they don’t.