The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially ended Net Neutrality on Monday, scraping the regulations from the Federal Register and hastening the introduction of a corporate-controlled internet.
The final ruling ends the Obama-era regulations, which prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon from slowing down or blocking access to certain websites. Instead the FCC chose to end the public-utility regulation of the internet and “restore the light-touch regulatory scheme that fostered the internet’s growth, openness and freedom.”
In February a group of Senate Democrats attempted to stop the FCC’s de-regulation by introducing a motion of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which could have allowed Congress to nullify the FCC’s proposal with a simple majority — but were unable to get enough votes to pass the legislation up to the President.
Under the new rules, the FCC has also passed the authority to regulate broadband to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is important not only because the FTC possess less understanding of broadband issues then the FCC does (hence Communications Commission rather than Trade Commission) but also doesn’t have the power to make any new rules — giving corporations even more freedom to dictate how the internet is run.
By restoring the “light-touch regulatory scheme,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that consumers will “benefit from greater investment in digital infrastructure which will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, and cheaper internet access.”
The reality however is that the FCC’s repeal will drastically tip the scales of the internet in favor of some of America’s most powerful companies, strangling the ability of tiny start-ups to create the next Facebook, Skype or Google by pitting them against corporate behemoths. Big ISPs also have a history of trying to stifle access to competitor products — in 2012, for instance, the FCC fined Verizon $1.25 million when it asked Google to remove applications that allowed users to skirt a $20 Verizon tethering charge.
But while net neutrality is gone at the federal level, there is still some hope for the principle in the states. Attorneys general in 23 states plus the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit challenging the repeal, while over thirty states, most recently Alaska, have begun legislation to preserve their own statewide net neutrality.
Meanwhile on a grassroots level, locally-owned broadband networks are giving options for fast, cheap internet to individuals in rural or low-income networks. Kentucky, for instance, is moving forwards with ambitious plans to build a state-wide fiber-optic cable network designed to provider cheaper internet to rural areas. The Equitable Internet Initiative has also begun to build high-speed internet in low-income areas of Detroit.
“Washington and the big telecoms are letting us down,” Mark Howell, chief information officer in the town of Concord, MA, wrote in the Washington Post. “But local leaders can protect people’s rights and expand access to quality Internet with municipal broadband.”