Restoring Internet Freedom Begins Today with the End of Net Neutrality

computer monitorsThe Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order goes into effect today.  The FCC voted in December 2017 to end net neutrality regulations that were established in 2015. In February 2015, the FCC reclassified ISPs as “common carriers” that changed their regulatory status under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, changing the regulatory status of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The FCC states that the new order will replace overly restrictive and antiquated regulations that have prevented ISPs from effectively innovating internet services and products.  FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has been a longtime critic of net neutrality regulations arguing that they prevent free market development of the internet. The new order will protect consumers, increase transparency, and support a truly free internet.  The FCC defines free as free from government control.

Advocates for net neutrality believe a free internet is free from industry control. The internet has grown and developed as an inherently free entity since its inception, and proponents of net neutrality believe it should stay that way. Ending net neutrality opens the doors for ISPs to explore unfettered cost and service structures that are only bound by a requirement to disclose behaviors to the FCC. Advocates for net neutrality hailed the 2015 regulations as a victory for consumer protection. Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny believes the new order “will not sufficiently limit harmful discriminatory conduct” by ISPs and the FTC will be ill-equipped to handle enforcement of nebulous regulations.

Net neutrality became a heated issue well over a decade ago. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) regularly reports on net neutrality in its Reports to Congress.  These reports provide background on the issues surrounding net neutrality. Many resources can be found on the HSDL regarding net neutrality, including a piece highlighting the value of an open internet, written by the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York School of Law.

Ahead of the vote in December, House Republican Mike Coffman (CO) requested that the FCC delay their vote until hearings could be held in Congress and legislation introduced. Rep. Coffman has been developing a bill to establish permanent legislation on a free internet and wants to see the issue decided on the floor of Congress and by the American people. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued a statement about the new order, calling it “misguided” and “bad news” for internet users.

In May 2018, the Senate passed a vote to repeal the FCC vote and restore net neutrality. A petition to force a vote on the resolution in the House of Representatives has yet to achieve the required 218 signatures. More than 20 states have sued the FCC and several have introduced state-level legislation on net neutrality to safeguard consumers against the pitfalls of deregulation; this despite a mandate in the new order preventing states from developing their own net neutrality laws.

The debate on net neutrality will continue. In the meantime, the ramifications of the new order are uncertain.


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