the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
Pretty simple, right? Seems like something that should unite everyone in the digital age, doesn’t it?
Apparently not. New Trump-appointed FCC Chair Ajit Pai has just announced the President’s plan to gut Obama-era protections and eliminate net neutrality all together.
President Obama’s Open Internet Order made net neutrality the law when he issued it in 2015. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who want the ability to control the flow of data by favoring some content providers and minimizing or blocking others, subsequently sued – and lost. After a federal appeals court ruling upheld the law, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said:
“This ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth. After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the Commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections — both on fixed and mobile networks — that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future.”
It appears “the future” has come – and gone.
The core of Trump’s plan to gut net neutrality laws is the reversal of Obama’s re-classification of ISPs as “Title II” entities. Under the Telecommunications Act’s “Title II” classification, the FCC regulates ISPs like utility companies – “common carriers” in the language of the law. This regulatory status limits how much they can restrict customer access to content or otherwise control the flow of data.
“Common carrier” classification is the fundamental regulatory means the government has. Re-classifying ISPs will reduce the FCC’s ability to enforce net neutrality protections.
Obama’s FCC tried to implement net neutrality without the “common carrier” provisions before, but Verizon successfully sued. The court affirmed in that case that the government didn’t have the power to regulate them or any ISP without the regulatory authority of Title II.
What today’s announcement means is that ISPs will essentially be able to speed-up or slow-down content from providers as they see fit. They could charge content providers premium fees to reserve bandwidth, or they could increase bandwidth for their own content and effectively slow access to content from rivals. They could even block or set up their own digital toll-booths to charge access fees for content they deem objectionable on their own moral or political grounds.
Pai has said previously that he favors net neutrality to keep the internet free open for as many Americans as possible. He just objects to the government using “Title II” to achieve it. That’s a little like favoring healthcare for everyone, but opposing laws that compel insurance companies to cover as many Americans as possible, and that provide subsidizes for them to do so.
We forgot who we were talking about for a second.
Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.