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On May 18, the FCC officially began their efforts to oppose net neutrality. In a 2-1 vote, the agency introduced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom” with the intention of repealing net neutrality rules established back in 2015 during the Obama administration when Democrats still ran the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The person largely responsible for the proposal is FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, who first made known his plans of overturning net neutrality after he was appointed by President Donald Trump on January 2017.
The proposal intended to nullify a regulation called Title II reclassification, which treated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as utilities or common carriers, similar to like water or electricity companies, so they could be better regulated. This gave the FCC more control over ISPs, preventing them from throttling bandwidth, blocking certain content, and selling of user information.
How it Affects the Internet Ecosystem.
The title of the NPRM is “Restoring Internet Freedom”, but its objectives could actually mean the end of internet freedom as we know it. If the proposal is approved, ISPs would once again be able to engage in unfair, unethical, and anti-competitive practices such as tiered internet services; this is when an ISP requires their customers to pay higher fees in order to gain faster and better service.
Prior to the enforcement of net neutrality protections, ISPs all but controlled internet data traffic. Verizon, Comcast, and other ISPs throttled content from companies like Netflix. It came to the point that Netflix was forced to pay both of them off just so they could stream faster and in higher quality.
Ajit Pai, a self-professed proponent of an open and free internet as both a consumer and a regulator, defended the FCC’s current stance on net neutrality.
Pai claims that treating the internet as a utility harmed the internet economy by hindering innovation and internet infrastructure investment. He affirms that for the internet to be mutually beneficial to all parties in the internet ecosystem, deregulating the internet is necessary. It’s for this reason that Pai wants to focus on taking action against actual anti-competitive practices among ISPs and not hypothetical scenarios like what the contested regulations tackled. The FCC Commissioner believes that ultimately, the NPRM would be for the benefit of the consumer.
However, staunch net neutrality supporters believe the opposite — that it is anti-consumer. Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democrat commissioner who opposed the NPRM, had this to say in her official dissenting statement submitted to the FCC.
“[The NPRM] contains ideological interpretive whiplash, boldly proposing to gut the very same consumer and competition protections that have been twice-upheld by the courts. And it contains an approach to broadband that will throw universal service money to broaden its reach, but abandon users, when something goes wrong, particularly if they are faced with anti-competitive or anti-consumer practices. It jeopardizes the ability of the open internet to function tomorrow as it does today. But if you unequivocally trust that your broadband provider will always put the public interest over their self-interest or the interest of their stockholders, then the Destroying Internet Freedom NPRM is for you.”
Internet users also seem to oppose Pai’s sentiments that the FCC’s proposal is pro-consumer, considering it puts the ISPs’ interests at the forefront instead of the consumers’.
The Battle for Net Neutrality
There are several sectors that are in favor of net neutrality, standing against the large ISPs that stand to benefit from the deregulation of the internet. In fact, internet users, multinational companies, and even startup businesses have come come in force to support net neutrality.
The NPRM has been met with considerable backlash. A record 9 million comments coming from users as well as industry professionals have been received by the FCC regarding the proposed rollback of net neutrality protections.
An internet-wide protest called “The Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” was held on July 12, and companies and websites such as Facebook, Google, Reddit, Netflix, Tumblr, and Twitter participated in the event.
Even small businesses have joined the struggle. 800 startup tech companies signed and sent Ajit Pai a 34-page open letter after he declared his plans to reshape existing net neutrality rules.
The FCC’s 2-1 vote is only preliminary. A final decision will be made some time after the period for official public commenting ends on August 16 and comments have been gathered and studied.
This signifies that net neutrality isn’t dead, at least not yet. There is still hope for a free and open internet, we just have to continue fighting for it. We must show that the FCC’s proposal is not the way to gain true internet freedom.
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