On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3–2 to repeal net neutrality, meaning private companies like Comcast and Time Warner will have the ability to determine how users consume internet content. The policy had stipulated that internet service providers were offering a utility, and thus they couldn’t restrict content or alter internet speeds. After the repeal, ISPs will be able to do both of these, with the potential to fundamentally change how digital content is delivered.
We’ve see the action coming. As soon as President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai FCC chairman in January 2017, fears of a deregulated internet began. Pai and the Republican-majority commission saw net neutrality as an overreaching government measure, one that stifled competition. Despite fervent efforts from active internet communities, within the year the FCC was able to bring down the protective regulations in favor of boosting corporate interests.
With the vote decided, dissent ramped up. Internet advocacy groups are preparing to sue the FCC over the decision, and the two democratic FCC commissioners have already spoken out against the repeal. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was particularly vocal leading up to today’s decision, and she released a statement in which she repeatedly referred to the decision as the “Destroying Internet Freedom Order”:
I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order. I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged. Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place? Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet — the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime — over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.
In November, another statement from Clyburn had seemed more hopeful. “Consumers and small businesses count on the FCC to be the standard bearer when it comes to upholding and protecting the public interest. We should to do the right thing. We ought to listen to what the American people are saying. We must stand up, speak out and work to ensure that the internet remains a platform for innovation and free expression in the decades to come.”
The repeal of net neutrality rules will not happen overnight, but, as mentioned, litigation to challenge the decision is likely. The future of a free internet is murky.