5 things to know about the FCC’s net neutrality repeal

Dec 19, 2017
  • By Keisha Rowe
  • Staff Writer
Commissioner Ajit Pai in his office in Washington in 2013. In his first days as President Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Pai has aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency. (Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines last week to repeal several rules surrounding net neutrality, a set of principles meant to stop broadband corporations from exercising control over what people see and do on the internet. Here are five things to know about what net neutrality is and what the repeal can mean for you.

» MORE COVERAGE: Net neutrality vote: FCC OKs repeal of Obama-era rules

1. What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality as it’s known today dates back to 2005. In essence, it’s the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally in terms of user access and allowing a free and open experience for both users and content providers. Under the former protections, broadband companies such as Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. were not allowed to block, throttle or provide preferred treatment to particular sites and services for a fee.

In 2015, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, under President Barack Obama, moved to make broadband providers officially designated as telecommunications companies, which allowed the commission to regulate and put legally protected rules into place regarding the internet under Title II of the Communications Act.

2. What has changed following the vote? 

The FCC’s vote has done two things: taken away broadband companies’ status as telecommunications companies and eliminated the anti-throttling rules. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, said the rules were heavy-handed and the repeal returns net neutrality back to a “soft-touch” approach, which he said will allow the industry more freedom for innovation in the market and increase investments in the industry in the long-term.

3. How will this affect consumers?

Opponents have said the repeal will lead to an ability for ISPs to create “fast lanes” for certain sites and services who pay for the privilege. It can also allow those companies to pressure content providers like Netflix to pay more to have their content served to users at the same speed as everything else, which could, in turn, force those providers to raise consumer prices to offset the cost.

Several companies, including Comcast, have said they will maintain their current stance on net neutrality and have vowed not to change their operations based on the decision, but have left the door open to change their minds in the future. The FCC chairman said reducing regulations should lead to more innovations.

4. When will changes take effect?

Changes to the way ISPs provide access to consumers won’t change immediately, but could happen gradually. However, several groups — including the media reform advocacy group Free Press and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson — have said they intend to sue the FCC to block the change. Lawsuits aren’t expected to appear in the court until after the change has been noted in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, but House Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she plans on introducing net neutrality legislation next week.

5. Who wins and who loses with this repeal?

The move is a win for broadband companies who have wanted the repeal to take effect ever since the formal 2015 rules were enacted. The companies have had fears the rules would allow the FCC to set prices for services or force them to share infrastructures with competitors. But the repeal passed last week erases that and allows companies the ability to change fees and regulations as they wish.

Consumers may see price hikes for services they already use like Hulu and Sling TV over time due to the repeal. Opponents also argue the rule change can allow ISPs to influence or limit what opinions you can express or hear based on how the block or slow down certain sites and create monopolies. But the Federal Trade Commission has renewed authority to police unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive practices, such as these, according to the FCC.

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