Federal Communications Commission (FCC) all set to repeal net neutrality rules

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) all set to repeal net neutrality rules
The brouhaha over net neutrality continues as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now laid down a concrete plan to ditch the existing net neutrality rules. Are these the last few weeks of the internet as we know it? Shashank Venkat reports

If you have been following the net neutrality debate in the US for a while, you would know that the Ajit Pai-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been trying hard to push for a repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules. Despite strong opposition from internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Netflix, the FCC has finally revealed its plans to repeal the landmark regulation. The FCC will vote on the deregulation proposal on 14th December, and it is widely expected that this proposal will be passed easily.

This announcement is a big win for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who have been lobbying hard for the repeal of the old rules. These companies have argued that the existing net neutrality rules stifle innovation, deter new investments and is an overreach of government control. After the rollback, ISPs would have the power to block access to certain websites, slow down connection speeds and charge more for faster delivery of certain types of content.

Internet giants, liberal activists and public interest groups are extremely unhappy with the latest development. They have long argued that the repeal will handover disproportionate power to the telecom companies who control internet access, and will hurt the free flow of information and content. While big businesses might still be able to fork out more money for unrestricted access, smaller businesses and entrepreneurs might feel the pinch of the new regulations. Moreover, it might also mean higher costs for businesses which will trickle down to consumers and subscribers.

The FCC expects ISPs to be transparent about their practices on blocking and throttling so that customers can make an informed choice. Many ISPs such as Comcast and Charter have also publicly stated that they will not throttle or block traffic. The Federal Trade Commission will also police the telecoms companies to ensure that they are not acting in an anti-competitive manner. 

However, the fact that broadband carriers indeed have the power to block content will make consumers uncomfortable as they are left to the whims and fancies of ISPs. The ISPs could easily push their own content, services and apps down the throats of their subscribers, and the consumers will have little option to safeguard their own preferences. Even though popular streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video can easily pay extra money to ISPs to keep their services competitive, this will result in extra costs for these businesses and ultimately their consumers. And that’s a big worry for digital subscribers who are already paying a lot for access to these services.

In fact, this is already happening in other countries such as Portugal and Spain, where service providers have started to split their services into different packages. Users interested in subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu can opt for an additional $10 package, for example, and subscribers who want to access Facebook at cheaper data rates can opt for a ‘social network package’. It isn’t hard to imagine such arbitrary packages and services in the US after these new rules come into force.

The next three weeks until the vote will continue to see some intense lobbying from both sides of the debate. We expect internet companies, public interest groups and the public at large to take action against the proposed plan. You would recollect that net neutrality proponents had come together to observe an internet-wide day of action to save net neutrality on 12th July, 2017. The proponents argue that the repeal will be a huge blow to a free and open internet and possibly mark the end of the online experience we have become so used to. Will the new rules really jettison the current internet experience with slow page load times, buffering videos or blocked content? Or are we just reaching exaggerated conclusions too soon? We will find out after the vote on 14th December. Do come back and read our report.

Also read: Will 2017 end up being a landmark year for cybersecurity?