On 21st November, the FCC chairman Ajit Pai introduced the commission’s’ proposal to repeal the current net neutrality regulations; the changes were published on Wednesday. The chairman argued that the current regulations are heavy handed and they have deterred investments as well as depressing the investments required to build and expand broadband networks. The significant change in the new proposal is to shift the FCC’s responsibility towards the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and not to regulate the broadband. Although these regulations have stirred controversies in the recent past, many people agree with the basic principles of net neutrality. So, what net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a principle that abides internet service providers and governments in a manner that prohibits them from blocking any internet content, speeding up or lowering the speed, charging differently or discriminating users. In a nutshell, net neutrality calls for equality of the internet. Net neutrality laws are regulations and laws that enforce the principle of net neutrality.
In the new proposal, the commission hopes that ISPs will not block or throttle the internet and that they will put this publicly in these terms of service. By doing this, the Federal Trade Commission will then enforce internet policies as the actions (terms of service) will be enforceable. So, action will be taken against those who violate the contract or those who will engage in fraudulent and anti-competitive activities.
Although the FTC is responsible for ensuring consumer protection and competition, it’s not yet clear how it will deliver this kind of protection in the telecommunication sector. On another note, the FTC is not as powerful as the FCC in terms of rulemaking authority. Its regulations will only apply to companies that have engaged in violations of antitrust law or those with voluntary public commitments. The FTC’s only hope to protect consumers is hope that the broadband companies will commit to the net neutrality principles in their terms of service.
Also in the proposal, the ban that keeps Internet service providers from charging internet as a service was removed as Pai believes the rules are too restrictive. It’s not clear yet if the ISPs will charge companies for internet fast lanes, i.e., some companies to pay some fees for their services to be delivered faster to consumers than their competitors. If companies don’t afford the fee such as startups, they will be at disadvantage. Pai wants to allow the broadband companies to experiment with other different models which allow them to give content for free without regards to a consumer’s monthly data cap. Such models include the zero-rated deals. Another model that could be exploited by the broadband companies is the one that gives priority to services that really deserve it such as self-driving cars and medical applications.
The proposal does not, however, touch the transparency rule in which broadband providers are required to disclose how they manage their networks. It rather expands on these rules, and now the ISPs will be required to commit to disclose the circumstances under which they can block, slow or offer priority services.
What does this mean for you?
This new proposal poses a great change in the current policy and it will affect the way you experience the internet. It’s yet to be known if the new proposal will impact your experience positively or negatively. As pointed out earlier, the new proposal is supposed to enable broadband providers to invest more and expand their network to more areas and provide faster speeds. In another perspective, the proposal might mean well but not for many since net neutrality will no longer work. Other people might be given priority than others. Other people like Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, companies such as Google and Mozilla and groups like consumer advocacy groups, civil rights organizations also share the same view; stripping the authority from the FCC and repealing the current rules will result into broadband companies controlling your internet experience.
In the US where this proposal is likely to take effect, major telecommunication and broadband companies like Verizon, AT and T and Comcast they could give priority to services on their networks hence keeping out competitors and limiting your access. In simple terms, your internet experience may become like cable TV where you only receive what the provider deems best. If this happens. It might also lead to higher prices as most broadband companies will become monopolies. Without net neutrality, the chances that these companies will abuse the new regulations are high as they have done it before. For instance; Comcast used to throttle Bit Torrents traffic in the year 2007 to avoid its competition in the entertainment content industry. Also, AT&T blocked Apple’s video chat service FaceTime in 2012. Simply because it offered stiff competition to AT&T’s telephony. Netflix also had the same scenario with Comcast-Time Warner merger in 2014.
The need for top speed VPN services will only continue to grow.
Its likely that the proposal will be voted in and since the FCC is being led by the Republicans, its likely to pass. But it won’t be that easy as net neutrality supporters will file lawsuits to defend net neutrality. All we’ll be waiting is the outcome. The last time this happened, the 2015 net neutrality rules were upheld in a court of law. So, the supporters have a chance. Its uncertain in the near future; if the new proposal passes, it could be flipped back again if a Democrat is elected to the White House. Looking at the issue from a neutral point, it won’t be good if these rules keep changing now and then. The Congress can take action to amend the communication act, but they are yet to.