It’s easy to see how the Federal Communications Commission’s vote Thursday to undo so-called net neutrality rules will benefit businesses, especially cable, phone and other internet service providers.
It’s a lot harder to find consumer benefits.
Net neutrality rules, approved in 2010 during the Obama administration, established six net neutrality principles. Chief among the rules was no blocking — that is, internet service providers cannot block or slow down content, apps and services from being used over their networks. For example, the rules prevent internet providers from blocking or slowing down competing apps and services such as Netflix and Hulu.
The FCC’s vote also wiped out consumer protections and banned states from passing laws that contradict the FCC’s approach. And the vote gives the Federal Trade Commission responsibility for oversight of internet service.
Thursday’s vote was along party lines. The three Republicans on the panel voted to eliminate the net neutrality rules, while the board’s two Democrats voted to keep them in place.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said net neutrality rules are unnecessary regulations that serve as a barrier to connecting more people to the Internet. Broadband service providers who lobbied heavily for the rules change, such as Comcast and AT&T;, argued that repealing net neutrality would lead to increased broadband investment and innovation. The companies said the fears that they will block, slow down or otherwise restrict content are unfounded.
By getting rid of net neutrality, broadband companies could create so-called fast lanes and require content delivery companies to pay fees to use the faster service. There are fears that such fees could force all but the largest companies out of business, which could fundamentally change how the internet is used. It also could result in increased fees for internet content.
Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft opposed the lifting of the net neutrality rules, and a number of protests have occurred. Court challenges to the new rules are expected.
The net neutrality rules have served consumers well and should have been kept in place. Despite their assurances to the contrary, it’s hard to believe broadband providers won’t use the repeal of the rules to hinder competing services and implement new fees. Thursday’s decision was a step back for advocates of internet freedom.