Changes are coming for the way the U.S. government regulates the internet.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) narrowly voted to dismantle the controversial 2015 Obama-era net neutrality internet regulations — which imposed utility-style regulations on internet service providers (ISPs), which prevented them from blocking, speeding up, or slowing down access to specific online services — in December. Their repeal became official on Monday as part of the FCC’s effort to provide an open Internet while paving the way for better, faster and cheaper Internet access for consumers.
On Monday, the FCC implemented the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” saying the order “replaces unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations dating back to 1934 with strong consumer protections, increased transparency and common-sense regulations that will promote investment and broadband deployment.”
“The 2015 decision to impose these heavy-handed utility-style regulations on the internet was a mistake,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a video, explaining the rules were a “solution in search of a problem” when in fact “the Internet wasn’t broken.”
The Internet is “the greatest free-market success story in history,” Pai wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in November. Regulations “designed in the 1930s to tame the Ma Bell telephone monopoly” are hurting investment, he argued in the piece.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.
Intent of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order
The FCC’s framework for protecting Internet freedom has three key parts:
Consumer ProtectionThe Federal Trade Commission will police and take action against Internet service providers for anticompetitive acts or unfair and deceptive practices. The FTC is the nation’s premier consumer protection agency, and until the FCC stripped it of jurisdiction over Internet service providers in 2015, the FTC protected consumers consistently across the Internet economy.
TransparencyA critical part of Internet openness involves Internet service providers being transparent about their business practices. That’s why the FCC has imposed enhanced transparency requirements. Internet service providers must publicly disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of service. These disclosures must be made via a publicly available, easily accessible company website or through the FCC’s website. This will discourage harmful practices and help regulators target any problematic conduct.
These disclosures also support innovation, investment, and competition by ensuring that entrepreneurs and other small businesses have the technical information necessary to create and maintain online content, applications, services, and devices.
Internet Service Providers must clearly disclose their network management practices on their own web sites or with the FCC. For more information about these disclosures, you can visit https://www.fcc.gov/isp-disclosures.
Removes Unnecessary Regulations to Promote Broadband Investment
The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015, when the previous FCC imposed 1930s-era regulations (known as “Title II”) on Internet service providers. And ironically, these regulations made things worse by limiting investment in high-speed networks and slowing broadband deployment.
Under Title II, broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6% — the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession. The effect was particularly serious for smaller Internet service providers—fixed wireless companies, small-town cable operators, municipal broadband providers, electric cooperatives, and others—that don’t have the resources or lawyers to navigate a thicket of complex rules.
Removing these outdated and unnecessary regulations will create a strong incentive for companies to pour resources into building better online infrastructure across the country and bringing faster, better, and cheaper Internet access to more Americans.
Upon arriving to the U.S. Sen, newly elected Sen. Doug Jones made quick on his campaign promises to fight to restore net neutrality provisions. In January, he co-sponsored resolution aimed to do just that — overturn Pai’s decision to repeal net neutrality.
“A free and open internet is crucial for our nation to remain a leader in the global economy, provide our children a quality education, and promote freedom of speech,” Jones said in a statement. “Repealing the Open Internet Order would allow companies to raise the price of internet access and discriminate against certain internet traffic. Restoring net neutrality is the right thing to do to protect Alabama consumers and to provide an equitable platform for companies of all sizes to compete for their customers.”
Senate Democrats managed to pass the resolution in May. It has now moved to the House for consideration, but it faces an an uphill battle.
Whether or not repeal of net neutrality has adverse effects on consumers, or actually helps, remains to be seen.